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This is an atmospheric album literally and figuratively: The Brocken Spectre is your shadow cast on a cloud, a Moonbow is a rainbow created by moonlight and Virga are the streaks of rain that fall from a cloud. It is also evocative of Kansas during tornado season with dark roiling clouds on the horizon, the eerie sound of a distant siren, a old radio playing in the background, maybe from Dorothy's living room circa 1935.

Almost everything I do culminates in some type of sonic mis-en-scene, that arise from visual approaches to music, or recording music as one would edit sound in a film.

Ever since the 60s, music recording has had a lot in common with sound in film. The late Malcolm McLaren talked about 'the look of a sound". This is why albums and album cover art is integral to producing music. Metaphors are central to the creative process. Art cannot exist without metaphorical association at some level.

In music school one is indoctrinated in the 3 B's: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. But now we can add Brian--Brian Eno.

It would behoove young music students to study Eno's procedures, as well as the other avant-garde and experimental composers of which Eno was influenced by, such as John Cage, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and so on.

One of my favorite Eno albums is 'On Land'. In a lecture at the Exploratorium in 1988, he explained his modus operandi in creating the album, which involved thinking about sound on different levels, and placing them in a continuum on a sonic Z-Axis, where sounds were placed as either foreground or background, and on the X-axis of musical-extramusical sounds, ranging from traditional musical instruments to 'noisy things'. 'Virga' and 'Stratified By Wind' apply this technique.

From the Exploratorium lecture:

"Usually the way we think about music is that we have instruments, and then we have the rest of the aural universe; we have foreground and background. What about, instead of accepting these dichotomies, letting all of those things be a continuum. So, instead of having musical instruments and noise we have: musical instruments, sort-of musical instruments, vaguely musical instruments, kind-of-noisy-things-that-make-musical-sounds, things that are just noisy and are clearly not instruments at all. What about using that whole field of possibilities? And the same with foreground and background. When you sit outside and listen, you hear some things loud 'cause you're close to them. It's just an accident. It's not because they're more important. But if you listen, you hear things that you know are actually loud but they're just on the edge of your earshot. I wanted to make a music that placed you in a field of sound and implied that the horizon wasn't the end of it, that it continued right around the edge, right around the globe. Music that puts you in context."

The more I do visual art, the more my music is influenced by it--not so much what I'm mentally visualizing, but rather how I am tracking and editing the music. With painting or drawing, I am usually working with what already is on the surface. When you work with pencils you also use the eraser. Similarly with recording software, you use the fader to 'erase' from the surface of the music. Some purists refer to this as 'tweaking' (read: cheating), but tweaking is an essential part of making art.

The romantic archetype of the composer is someone that conceives the entire work in a state of manic reverie and then quickly creates it. This process is more likely to occur in visual art than music as a musical product (a fully produced recording), hence my inclination to continually revise and 'steer' the work to a conclusion. I would hate to give the impression that making music is now all about obviating the essentials of the craft--and that one could get by on that alone--as much as painting is about just simply smearing paint on a surface. Which of course relates directly to romantic notions of art-making that involves a state of quasi-psychosis to make it happen. In fact, making any kind of product that takes days, weeks, months or years loses a little bit of the romance, and becomes a slog in most cases. Ask any composer moiling over a score and parts in the heat of summer.

But now that we continually tweak, mash and chop all types of art in a 'communal kitchen' of culture, the initial spark of an idea becomes less and less relevant, as it is always in a state of being revised. There can never be a true original as nothing is ever in a fixed state if it can de digitized and manipulated. Art has become software rather than hardware. I actually like this idea...


The Broken Spectre: Created from a bass line initially conceived in the alternate tuning F-Ab-F-C using layered ostinati with harmonics. Everything else was added and removed over time.

Saturnine: Started with a bass line on a fretless in D Dorian with borrowed chords from D minor. I added a 'circular' loop of a hammer dulcimer sound for a Saturn-like treatment.

Dreaming of Tornadoes: Tornadoes are common dream archetypes, as are plane crashes and other disasters that probably arise from the brain dealing with fear and fascination with fear. The tune started with a melodic bass line in B Dorian mode to which I added a dreamy, bluesy atmosphere with layered guitars and synth washes. The electric piano with tremolo is an obvious reference to 'Riders on the Storm' or 'Dreams' by the Allman Brothers.

Spychodrama: Created from a bass line in E-G#-D-F# tuning. It was moved to standard tuning for all other parts. The same chord changes were applied to a slower 'Andante Movement' with new acoustic guitars. The final 'movement' is actually an 'appendix' that is not related to the seed bass line or chord changes, but I thought it worked as a Suite.

In The Cloud: This is an alt mix of 'Dreaming of Tornadoes' using only the atmosphere tracks and one of the guitar tracks.

Moonbows: An alt-mix of another tune with a provisional title 'Glint of Starlight on the Oceans of Distant Planets' using some of the atmosphere tracks with added 'liquid piano'. The piece trails off 70s Floyd style, with pitch bend and manipulation of envelope and VCF and VCO controls on the liquid piano.

Stratified By Wind: One of the rare moments that you sit at the piano and you come up with something interesting and immediately usable. I used a harp strum patch with various chords over an E pedal point, and placed it in an atmosphere.

Sussed: Polyrhythmic groove based on a 16/8 grouping in a slow 4/4 with Steely Dan-ish 7ths in the B phrase. As in lots of African music, grooves are built up from a rhythmic mesh of polyrhythmic layers, usually in 12/8. This is a variation of that in 16/8. Initial idea was played on a bass, including the refrain melody, later played on slide guitar. There are 5 bass parts: two on a jazz bass, 2 fretless parts and a sub-bass part played on Korg Triton. 2 guitar parts, one an 'Edge' rhythm part and one using slide.

Dromomania: Riff is loosely based on the outro from Beatles' "I Want You-She's So Heavy", a slow minor blues with a Portishead vibe. Title seemed to fit: Dromomania is defined as "...a psychological condition in which people spontaneously depart their routine, travel long distances and take up different identities and occupations. Months may pass before they return to their former identities...The most famous case was that of Jean-Albert Dadas, a Bordeaux gas-fitter. Dadas would suddenly start traveling, on foot, and come to as far away as Prague or Vienna or even Moscow with no memory of his travels.."

Virga: Initially conceived as an improvisation in the altered tuning E-F#-B-F# on a '62 Jazz bass. My experiments in this tuning so far have been with the natural harmonics, which gravitate towards extended B Major and F# Major tonalities. The chiming quality of the harmonics somehow suggested rain to me. I already had virga on my list of titles, and used it as a spring board. As with all my ambient pieces, I often collage in various samples and sound files, in this case samples of held notes and field recordings. In many ways, it developed into what sounds like a knock-off of 'Portrait of Tracy'. This is a bit different from Jaco's piece in that while he used lower open strings and fretted notes in a bottom-up fashion, I am playing melodies on the top string, and hitting harmonics below it in a top-down fashion.

May 1, 2010