Lately I’ve been realizing that my body of recordings has grown large enough that I could start producing the modern equivalent of mixtapes: MP3 playlists.
And so I have. Last fall I remixed and remastered my “greatest hits,” so to speak, from the past couple of years, and released the results on both CD and MP3 as Notated Scorns. I don’t plan to go that far with every future “mixtape,” but there’s still tremendous potential in 10 years’ worth of recordings to produce interesting new rearrangements of tracks without all the mucky-muck of remastering and having CDs manufactured.
Today I am announcing the immediate (and, of course, free) availability of the first of these new compilations: The Ambient Collection: 2001–2008. This collection includes 7 ambient tracks produced, surprisingly enough, between 2001 and 2008, in their original forms, along with some fresh new cover art. Enjoy!
In the mid-’90s, I was a member of a musical group called Bassius-O-Phelius. Working under a name based on an obscure Captain Beefheart reference, my friend Mark Bergen and I, occasionally supplemented by other musician friends, recorded a number of albums of free-form improvisation. Mark played organ, electric piano, and viola, and I played electric bass, woodwinds and percussion. It was all about experimentation and the power of music to convey mood and mystery. It was also kind of ridiculous, but we did everything with a sense of humor.
The Bassius-O-Phelius method was to use a 4-track cassette recorder, lay down an initial pair of tracks — typically on keyboard and bass — and then play the tape back and improvise another pair of tracks on viola, clarinet, and assorted other instruments. This led to some interesting results, as our improvisations were based not only on the live interplay of two musicians standing in a room together, but of those two musicians interacting with themselves via the prerecorded tracks.
For this year’s RPM Challenge, I decided to channel that spirit into a solo album, which I have entitled 222: Improvisations for 6 Instruments. Obviously the dynamic here is different: there’s only one of me, so I can’t interact with another player live. This difference was most apparent while laying down the first instrumental track: it was just me on the keyboard, with no frame of reference. My experience with Bassius-O-Phelius, however, taught me that it was important, among other things, to establish a steady, repetitious groove from time to time, anticipating opportunities for solos in subsequent tracks.
Another difference was the recording tools at my disposal: in the ’90s we recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder, but I recorded this album in GarageBand on my MacBook. The number of possible tracks is (in principle) unlimited, so I could easily lay down six individual instrument tracks without needing to worry about “bouncing down.” But there was another significant effect of using GarageBand: I could watch the waveforms of the other instruments as I played. Obviously this couldn’t totally allow me to “read the mind” of… well, myself… from the prior tracks, but it did allow me to anticipate major events. This might seem like “cheating,” but it actually felt more akin to the “two people in the same room” experience: while musicians are collectively improvising, it is common for them to make eye contact and give each other visual cues to facilitate group events in the performance.
Once the six instrument parts were recorded, I created 8 distinct “pieces” based on this single 8:38 track, by splitting up the instruments into different arrangements. For instance, the first track is just keyboard and guitar; the second is just Bebot and bass clarinet. Only on the final track do all six instruments finally come together and reveal the ultimate end product of my endeavors.
This new version, I am proud to say, runs on cms34, a Content Management System I developed based on the CakePHP framework. I’ve been running numerous client sites on it for the past couple of years, along with my own Room 34 Creative Services site, but this is the first time I’ve really pushed its capabilities on a site of my own. The site has a few tricks up its sleeve (although most are in the admin interface right now), and more is on the way, including automatic transcoding of MP3s into Ogg Vorbis format for playback in the Firefox and Chrome web browsers.
Yadda yadda yadda. It’s not about the web geekitude (well, maybe for me it is)… it’s about the music. I’ve posted streaming and downloadable MP3s, cover art, background information, and CD purchase links for about a half dozen of my most recent projects, and over the coming weeks I’ll be filling in the rest of my “back catalog” going back to at least 2001, and perhaps even to my debut “album” from 1992, if I can round up the old cassette currently decaying in a box in the basement somewhere.
Much of it is probably pretty quiet these days. I know the remnant of the once great U.S. Route 66 running through the Cajon Pass in Southern California is an all-but-forgotten back road now: Interstate 15 roars with 8-plus lanes of cars and trucks 24 hours a day, while less than a mile away, the former divided 4-lane Route 66 has been reduced to a single 2-lane blacktop county road, with the abandoned southbound lanes left overgrown with weeds and populated intermittently with parked cars, their occupants wistfully dreaming of the glory days of the erstwhile “Main Street of America.”
My latest music project, entitled simply 66, is a 21-minute, 10-part suite that seeks to capture, in my own quasi-prog-rock fashion, some of the experience of cruising along the “Mother Road” from its origin at Lake Michigan in Chicago, through St. Louis, across the American Southwest (following, roughly, the path of current Interstate 40), past the Grand Canyon, into the California High Desert and on to the Pacific shore in Santa Monica.
Route 66 is in many ways a symbol of America, from its optimistic (if never so simple and wholesome as some prefer to remember) origins in westward expansion, to its decommissioning in the 1970s with the advent of bigger and better freeways, and its subsequent haphazard mix of abandonment and preservation. Route 66 represents the best and worst of the American prospect. It’s a fitting inspiration for an extended, varied, and ultimately unpredictable piece of music.
You can listen to the entire album online or download it for free at my official 66 album page. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.
“09 14 08 00 41 00” is 10-plus minutes of down-tempo, chill-out electronica for a rainy summer night. Composed, recorded, mixed and mastered in less than two hours, it’s fresh from my brain to your ears. Enjoy!