Archive for the compositions Category

Digging in the archives

Posted in compositions, work, writings on October 25, 2009 by dukewisdom
Or, “I knew I was hanging on to this crap for some reason.”

I recently got the urge to don my faux journalist hat again. Since the discontinuation of activity over at Heavy Frequency, where I’d been contributing the Grace & Fury column, I haven’t done much in the way of guitar writing. In that former capacity I’d outlined a six-part series of super evil etudes to be presented in great detail. While I only got around to completing four before the HF crew closed up shop, I found the process to be an excellent exercise; forcing myself to go over every note, every picking instruction, every comment with a fine tooth comb was good for the brain and the fingers.

When I learned that my buddy Aaron had launched a new site, Hardened Magazine, and was accepting content submissions, my wheels started turning. I wanted to resume the act of detailed, technical musical babbling, but to go in a different, slightly less labor intensive direction. And so I hatched the idea of a new column, Black Ops Guitar, which would contain exercises in a very pure sense. Whereas Grace & Fury spent a fair number of words delving into music theory and topics of diatonic ramification, Black Ops would be about making the fingers do twisted things and damn what it sounds like.

Great. Now what to put in the column? I’d had in mind a few warm ups I use and that have been standard handouts in my recent return to limited teaching. But in the back of my mind I knew I had dozens of such pieces completed in the dim and distant past. So I went digging for folders of yore and found a treasure trove for future exploitation.

Old school.

Old school.

It was in a box under a box in the basement, dusty and damp. (Geez, sounds like the introduction to a Lovecraft story …) I’d unearthed the prototype of Exercises in Focus. Here in a purple folder was a taped-together, hand-written, typed-on-a-fucking-typewriter mockup of my first attempt at a book. (My second attempt, Meditations for the Modern Guitarist, made it a wee bit further than a forgotten folder. More on that another time. Maybe.) Back in 1995 I devoted a lot of time to crafting this set of exercises organized around specific aspects of technique. I believed very much in the thing and was hoping to self-publish it. Man, was I ambitious. Looking back, the idea is still pretty good, but much of the execution sucks. At any rate, there is plenty of material worth plundering.

Welcome back to daylight, baby.

See Black Ops Guitar and other ruminations in the Radiation section of Hardened.


Muse Visitations

Posted in compositions, observations on June 24, 2009 by dukewisdom

Of quick turnaround and seizure of inspiration.

Recently I’ve been contributing some lyrics to songs being written for The Stigmata Brothers, an upcoming project spearheaded by friend and sometimes collaborator E. Voeks. I was originally a member of this almost-band until a schedule collision made that impossible. But I’m still excitedly co-writing what I can.

This project has been framed for a few months; there is a definite end date and specific time frame for preparation of material. And I’ve had plenty of times set aside to devote to the work: plane rides, hotel rooms and leisurely days off work were ideally to yield results. Yet other than a few abortive lines – nothing.

Then, a few weeks back I hurried in from cutting the grass. Without missing a beat, without stopping for a beer I scrambled for a notebook. I’d come up with an entire song while pushing the mower. Whew. Hurray – the floodgates had opened!

Then: nothing more.

Finally yesterday I was emailed a demo of a song with completed choruses but only placeholder mumbles for the verses. Determining that the desired goal was not, in fact, some sort of blurry Michael Stipe-ian obfuscation, I pondered what was there. In a burst of inspiration (I guess that’s what it was), like some dime store Bernie Taupin I imagined a scenario and enough verses to fill the holes which I typed up and sent back to Stigmata central. Maybe 90 minutes later I was returned an updated version of the demo with said verses plugged in. It’s kind of a fascinating way to work.

E. joked that we’d have this pressed and on shelves by 6:00 pm, Sun Records style. If I could only bottle this type of productivity …

RECORDING | Gentleman Echo – Research Arc

Posted in compositions, recordings on February 15, 2009 by dukewisdom
Gentleman Echo - Research Arc

Gentleman Echo - Research Arc

Here comes one of those sort-of-finished-what-the-hell-are-you-waiting-for projects. Once upon a time, the year was 2000 or so, with nothing else pressing, I was inclined to create a series of experimental, DIY, lo-fi, use-what-resources-you-have recordings. They were completed over the course of probably no more than two weeks on a Teac A-3340S reel-to-reel 4-track machine with limited outboard gear consisting mostly of some rack-mount guitar processors. My plan was to augment what instruments I was going to use (a few guitars and some manner of Boss drum machine) with the analog recorder as an instrument in and of  itself, exploiting and manipulating the tape in the time honored fashions of countless studio dabblers before me.

But wait – didn’t I just say the recordings were “completed” in “2000 or so” but that the project was “sort-0f-finished?” What the hell has been the delay? Have I been waiting for someone to piece the thing together these years down the line ala Dennis Wilson’s Bamboo? Or, like some low rent Tom Scholz, am I poring over every last detail of a proposed masterpiece? No. Basically, I’ve been distracted and sidetracked by real life. As I pointed out, there wasn’t much equipment available so it took a while to get around to doing a proper mix/master. This eventually took place in about 2002 when the music entered the digital realm at Upper Sandwichclock, a project studio of lasting obscurity. And then there was the art work. I’ve cobbled together several album covers (which sucked and reeked of amateurism) over the years, but as I’ve spent more time around talented designers have picked up enough knowledge to make me dangerous to myself. I’m no Hipgnosis, but I’ve come up with something I like; the image above is the final cover.  I hereby declare this project complete.

Isn’t this exciting in the extreme? Can you contain your enthusiasm? You can’t? You say you’d like a blow by blow synopsis of each track? Of course I’ll provide it. What you should do is get a copy from me and read along. And here it goes:

01 isol
This is the track that says, hi, welcome to Research Arc. Some welcome. If an album’s opening track serves to assert a thesis for the overall recording, isol would seem to set up a panorama of alarm and disconcertment.  Yeah, that covers a lot of what is here. At this point I’d like to add, like all the great old Queen albums, that no synthesizers were used in this recording. But, like, that’s just because I didn’t have any. isol contains sounds that are obviously guitar and sounds that are obviously a whale trying to sing Timetable by Genesis. In other words, analog tape trickery is present from the start. Crushing waves of dreadful racket are realized via Floyd Rose detuned distorted guitar (an Ibanez RG550) at half speed. I think there may be some backwards stuff in there too – just swelling chords, nothing to make you kill or worship Satan or anything.

Download isol

02 Ducks Receive Injections
From the time it was born until yesterday, this piece (I hesitate to call anything here a “song”) was known as “Where’d You Get the Ducks?” It became obvious to me that this number would have to be renamed. I like it much better now. At any rate, Ducks is a trippy dubbed-out affair that seems like what might happen if Al Jourgensen and King Tubby collaborated on remixing some Bjork master tapes. Or something. It is sure to be a big hit in the dance clubs of NGC 4414.

03 Cruel Mastodons
They’re very cruel.
Like a lot of the content here, Mastodons is mostly about texture. As I’ve grown older (and older and older) I’ve developed a wider appreciation for the purely sonic. It’ll never take the place of Abbey Road, but music that is about a sound is very appealing to me. I mentioned that a Boss drum machine was used on these recordings. Mastodons and Ducks (don’t those two just go hand in hand?) both embody how – manipulated deconstructed mutations. And speaking of mutation, there is a very nasty strain of slide guitar going on here. I think it should probably be reported to the CDC.

04 The Clandestine Umbrella
Not all of the experimentation on Research Arc consists of me jacking around with tape speed or direction. Umbrella is an example of xenochrony. In opposition to the standard idea of a guitar solo being an interactive melodic extension reacting to an accompaniment, the solo on this piece was recorded first with no associated environment, just a key. Afterwards, chords were added with respect only to  the key and the span of time dictated by the length of the solo. Whatever interplay happens is purely synthetic and coincidental. Umbrella also features occasional deranged and detached lap steel blurbs which arise to comment and (thankfully – I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly applied myself to the steel) disappear.

05 knfll
The title is a mistyping of “knell” that stuck. knfll is one of several Arc tracks to feature a sample from that cinematic masterpiece Night of the Lepus. The clip pops up at 1:22 just before a fairly vicious guitar solo.

06 Squalus
Squalus is the first element of the Oceanic Oppression Trilogy. This piece takes its name from a doomed submarine – and maybe it shows. The vessel sank in 1939 with 33 on board, all of whom were rescued the next day. This is how I imagine the night stranded on the ocean floor.

07 Mollusk Eve
This is the cue  for a creature outside the sunken Squalus, an impartial witness to the goings on. I’d really forgotten about so many of the bits herein. The electric guitar theme of Eve haunts me just a bit.

08 Thou Shalt Not Drown
And finally with the sample, “mommy, what’s a control group?” Drown attempts to conclude the underwater saga. There was understandable tension among the crew during those long submerged hours. Some, starting to go slightly mad, even started to theorize that their situation was part of some black government experiment (possibly under cover of some clandestine umbrella?). Ok, I made that up. More distorted half-speed drum loops form a foundation for scuzzy altered lap steel. I think there is some whacking on a wine bottle (presumably emptied) going on too.

1950s Oahu lap steel

1950s Oahu lap steel

09 Eitas
Eitas is a wash of Impressionistic colors. The swelling, major 7 chords made me think of Erik Satie. In reverse.

Download Eitas

10 The Frown Returns
So much for pleasantries. A hopelessly slowed down acoustic guitar provides the environment for clipped distorto-paranoiac sputtering. This is another track which moment by moment offers little in terms of melody but which dwells in the scope of the programmatic and cinematic.

11 Uninclude
Digitally delayed drum looping is the key. You can hear and feel some 5-string bass lumbering around somewhere downstairs. And that’s a “vocal” over there in the right channel. Egads. This is a track which certainly would have been omitted from any number of Trans Am or Can albums.

Download Uninclude

12 Searching for Patterns Where Really There are None
This song (oops, I used the “S” word) used to be called Musiker Obscure. Until yesterday. I think looking too deeply for something that is just not there is a mistake we all make. It can cause one to apply false meaning to objects and situations. By the same token, it is quite easy to miss the obvious. Somewhere in between exists an optimized consumption of life as we know it. Searching is almost an exact replica of Rocket Queen by Guns N’ Roses. Ok, it’s not, but it is similar in that it seems to be two distinct musical ideas attached together under the guise of one title. You can hear real crickets and night bugs recorded on purpose out the window of the house I used to live in in Blue Springs, MO. Then there’s more half-speed acoustic guitar mixed way out in front of what was maybe supposed to be a pseudo Clare Torry Great Gig in the Sky type of tortured wordless vocal, but in reality is closer to John Fahey’s “Ghosts.”

The Teac

The Teac

And that is how I remember and/or reimagine the Research Arc album. Gentleman Echo, by the way, is just one in a series of musical aliases I’ve been known to use. I think of it as a category name for those projects which might be of an “out there” nature.://

Why this?

Posted in compositions, observations on February 8, 2009 by dukewisdom

Even before I got ambitious on a Sunday morning and signed up, WordPress already had 205,696 users. And I already have pages on FaceBook, Myspace, Live Journal and elsewhere upon which to post, ramble, blather, and otherwise squander time and electricity. So why bother? Why contribute to the barely navigable clutter and noise of the internet?

All of those other mediums are essentially stream-of-consciousness manifestations of me, outlets for what trips the trigger at any given moment. But, me being me, there is often an underlying (overriding?) theme of music in my thoughts. Hell, I can barely type up a summary of dinner without straying into some such tangential thought (Wishbone Ash, DJ Food and Prefab Sprout would be excellently pointless departures …). So, this blog is meant to be a focused repository for musical whatever, an online colander that lets only music through, a bandpass filter which blocks out non-musical topics. Yeah, something like that.

The name of this site comes from of a piece I wrote in about 1999. At that point in time I’d been playing music for over 15 years but had ceased to play live. I was teaching guitar professionally in those days and so was very involved with music but in no position to be in a band, to communally interact with like minds. When I got the urge to perform in public again the most feasible and direct way to do so was to play solo. So I started writing a set.  Echoflower was the first thing I came up with and as such symbolizes a renewal, a re-invigoration. It was a difficult set of years I went through but I did come away with some souvenirs.

And that was all during what I think of as a past life where inspiration was fleeting and creativity was tempered by crushing real world circumstances. Nowadays it seems I am constantly inspired by a life that is rich in every aspect. I hope to make this new place a house for pieces of the past and progressions of the present.