The End of 2018: Collaborations, Gaming Tributes, Guitars, Synths and More

2018 is winding down with some new developments and directions. The beginning of all of this is the start of an on going series of tracks I’m referring to (for now) as “Gaming Tributes.” These are completely original songs inspired by the spirit of various games I’ve enjoyed over the years. They owe their sonic DNA to both the OSTs which accompany them, but also to the overall essence and nature of the game they’re dedicated to. I am aiming to release these on or around anniversaries of various release dates. You can listen to and download the first two dedicated to Mass Effect and Half-Life 2:

These tributes are a way of expressing myself musically that’s not inherently tied to a representation of myself and doesn’t carry the burden of being “my” music, even though these are original compositions. Over the years I’ve struggled to really “find my voice” and to create music that’s authentic in some way. Creating these tributes allows me to act on a different source of inspiration, try out new approaches to music, and increase my knowledge and skills—especially where it concerns electronic music. It’s my way of rediscovering a sense of joy and fun in music while also paying respects to games and composers that have had a lasting effect on me. I’m excited to continue growing this series.

I am also collaborating on a project I’m very excited to see grow. While my Gaming Tribute series is a celebration of various games that speak to a core component of my life, this new project is a celebration of my roots as a guitarist. Though I’ve traversed a great deal of sonic territory and will continue to do so, my roots as a rock guitarist are strong and I’m thrilled to have partnered with someone with a musical vision that allows me to embrace the power chord in a refreshing and exciting way. This is an iron that will be in the fire for some time, so there’s some time yet before the project appears in the wild, but I can’t wait until it does.

With my Half-Life 2 tribute piece finished, I’m currently working on the next addition to this series. After this I’m dedicating time to an even greater project firmly rooted in the idea of “Gaming Tributes.” This is a larger, more ambitious project which builds on much of what I’m doing in the Gaming Tributes, but takes it in a slightly different direction, embracing the “Ambient Guitar” as a fully independent and realized instrument.

ej

Identifying the Post-Guitar

post-guitar:
      guitar-centered music which actively interrogates expectations of the instrument.


post-guitar 1 builds off a framework I’ve been utilizing for a while now and is inspired from countless other works which would certainly fit into the same category. The term stems from my need to create a language to better fit the nature of the work I was doing. Ambient, experimental, abstract—all these fit on the surface, but I found them lacking in addressing how the process felt; I wasn’t merely playing and writing with lap steel, fretless and microtonal guitars; I was running them through various processes and using expanded techniques that would embellish the instrument, utilizing the many years spent learning and playing the guitar in more traditional spaces as a foundation to build something different.

This is the process of taking everything I know as a guitar player who can instinctively work with the instrument in a variety of musical spaces to move forward in a direction that interrogates the role of the instrument and the music we collectively expect it to create.

In the same way that post-rock and post-metal take their respective ensembles and point them in a direction which subverts expectations and attempts to reject the overly simulated aspect of “genre,” I found my process to also be fitting of the “post” designation—though I am by far the first to do this as it concerns the guitar. It seemed clear to me that this is music that takes place after our culture has designated a time and place for the guitar—not just in terms of its role in more popular music, but even in that of what we know as “guitar player’s” music. Guitar-centered music is far from unique, either in genres where it is more dominant (rock and metal for example) or in the works of artists often referred to as “solo guitarists,” the list of which would be entirely too long.

The world has not been without its experimental guitarists either, many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to know and communicate with, largely thanks to the Unfretted community: Neil Haverstick, Michael Atonal Vick, Elliot Sharp, Jon Catler, who I was fortunate enough to study under for a time, and many, many others who also fit the role of taking the guitar both in terms of its physical identity and its musical implementation into a “post” period. The ambient genre has also known many to push the guitar into fascinating places, Robert Rich and Steve Roach immediately come to mind. In sketching the “post-guitar” the landscape is filled with these artists and their work.

Performing post-guitar music is then anything that would involve an implementation, execution and perspective of the instrument which subverts cultural expectations; this can involve complex audio processing chains that expand the temporal and sonic spaces the guitar is normally capable of, experimental intonation and temperaments that allow the guitar to move beyond cultural standards of tonality—although, sticking to standard 12-tone frameworks might also result in uniquely post-guitar music as it takes the instrument along with its associated tuning system into new realities; the instrument can also be modified or constructed in a way that radically alters what sounds it can produce and in this way shares much in common with “prepared-guitar” music. Overall the goal is to craft new dimensions of sound and music with the guitar as the primary instrument. In some cases, the guitar might take on the appearance of synths, orchestral instruments or even the human voice—but so long as a first glance manages to either obfuscate the fact that a guitar is involved or launch the sound of the guitar in a way one is not expecting, we are in the realm of the post-guitar.

post-guitar 1 is a way for me to categorize this work organically, respecting the legacy it builds from; it also provides a basis to understand and explore future works. Different techniques and processing arrangements were used to create these five improvised pieces, each of which were a single track with minimal editing done after the recording; there is no multi-tracking here. Some of the “techniques” include the use a cello bow in conjunction with an e-bow, striking lap steel strings with drum sticks, guitar tunings and e-bow grips that allow for simultaneous drone and melody playing at once, etc. All of these explore new sonic space which have not yet been solidly outlined for and expected of the guitar; this is the first in what will be a series of on-going releases.

 

Musical Developments—the endless endeavor

I’ve started work on a new collection of material focused on heavy guitar tones. This is alongside my current work creating ambient/experimental music. Somehow I’ll need to find a way to balance these two drastically opposite worlds out, and maybe along the way there might be an opportunity for some thematic convergence—but I’m not counting on it; these are galaxies apart.

After leaving my last musical venture behind, I aimlessly wrote some music in this “genre.” It was genuinely aimless; with a 7-string guitar in hand, I laid down a number of “riffs,” melodies and the like. Some of it was interesting, but nothing that pushed me yet into the mode of fully writing this stuff out into complete pieces. A lot of that reluctance stems from a great uncertainty as to the purpose of such music. Was I just emulating a band? Was I just making musical vehicles that transport my technique? I’ve come to understand the role of guitar-focused music for the guitarist, but there already exist an abundant wealth of great music like that out there—what could I possibly create in this space that would ever hold a candle to landmark works?

I drove myself insane with these questions and so I ignored them; the 7-string went in the closet and I focused on fretless, experimental guitar stuff. After doing some sorting of my personal files I came to the realization that I had over a dozen of these aimless riffs and melodies—complete with titles that showed the seriousness of my intent, such as (bullshit.mp3, morebullshit.mp3, andevenmorebullshit.mp3, whateverthefuckthisis.mp3, idunno.mp3). I could, of course, just leave this stuff in the digital dust bin which contains countless similar files (and similar file names—though there was a time when I seemed to be more inspired to come up with “cool-sounding” titles, or just more ignorant). But these small recordings stood out, especially given the context of me having left my last musical project behind and being largely unsatisfied with that album being potentially the final statement I would make using these kinds of musical themes. The thought of that makes me squint.

I put these together into a nearly 20-minute collection of chord progressions, melodies and developmental ideas and immediately got to work charting out the first “song.” As it stands, I’m quite satisfied with the results. This marks the first time in about half-a-decade that I’ve produced music like this (especially since the last musical project involved other people who would take up the responsibility of writing and performing the other parts) and I’m feeling motivated to continue the process.

This of course complicates things as, A. my literary theory studies are keeping me more than occupied and busy, and B. I have a serious body of ambient/experimental music I’m woefully behind on. So here I go, trying to climb this mountain of responsibility and creative endeavors.

This material represents a lot of different interests and passions of mine—a lot of which focus on guitar technique and all that associated stuff. There are a lot of technical challenges since I’m writing beyond what my current capabilities are—something I’ve always striven for—so a lot of time will go into woodshedding specifically for this material. There’s also all the nonsense associated with drums/drum programming and what the hell I’m going to do there; I’ll figure that out at a later date. Right now the material has to be written.

I’m also planning on exploring ways to code this music with meaning. Instrumental music of this sort really struggles to move beyond its form—and as an observer of form I find it enticing to submit my creative energies to their models—but even with lyrical music we can see the same formulaic response (especially in metal as a whole). Overall I want this to be something more than a bunch of loud music showcasing guitar gymnastics. Figuring this out will be a priority of mine in writing this material.

Back to the real grind.

ej

January 2018 News & Updates

Nearly 10 years ago I started exploring ambient composition and musical theories such as just intonation. Since then I went down a few different musical paths, from furthering my explorations in experimental music to performing metal music at venues all across the United States as well as parts of Canada and the United Kingdom. This year my sights are set on exploring the sonic sphere of ambient sound, drones, intonation systems and more.

In the spirit of looking back on previous musical ventures, I recently uploaded a work I created in 2012 titled Turbulent Serenity. This album has enjoyed regular rotation on Soma FM’s Drone Zone, a station that played a pivotal role in my immersion into the world of ambient expression. Though for a while it was on my Soundcloud account, Turbulent Serenity was too large for the original file size allotted for an artist of my size on Bandcamp at the time. This reissue celebrates then the growth of my work since then, as well as my origins in long-form composition, ambient drones and just intonation. I’m excited to now have it among my official discography on Bandcamp: A respectful bow toward the past and an open mind toward the future.

Looking forward, I am nearing the end of the process of what will be a special release for this year. While my recent work has focused on more long-form drone works, this one will be a little different in nature, both in terms of its structure as well as the writing and recording process—both of which I’ll discuss in greater as the time is right.

To wrap this post up, I would like to point out that the rights regarding my music has shifted. I have removed existing restrictive copyrights and allowed for more open use of works I published under Creative Commons. Now under the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, you are not only free to distribute my works, but you may adapt or modify them in works of your own so long as they are non-commercial in nature and attribution to the original source is given. You can learn more about this license here.

 

 

 

 

Thank you again for your support and here’s to a great year ahead!

ej

Moving into 2018

Those who found displeasure after watching The Last Jedi need to thoroughly examine themselves as they’re either joyless saps or are completely incapable of embracing change—completely incapable of enjoying the ways in which something can respect its legacy while still making changes necessary to define a new cultural epoch—and especially one that must pry its wisdom and beauty from the mangled troglodyte hands of racist, misogynistic man-children.

Change is inevitable, but it is still a servant of causality. I won’t go so far as to claim that it is a universal, but I will maintain that understanding a why is essential to life, and doubly so for anyone who engages in “artistic” endeavors. So then it makes sense that we understand the why of The Last Jedi. Some lines were weird or wonky—every great film has at least two of those—and sure, the fact that it’s one slow chase scene, more or less, definitely feels a little odd. Also, Rey got too wise too damn fast—but I digress. The why of this film was a need to recontextualize past films, especially the prequels, as well as expand the universe to be more than just a tale of the Skywalkers. Those who wasted time theory crafting and digging through the now partitioned lore were likely devastated to learn that this film sought to define itself and define its characters on its own terms. Deal with it.

The why and the reason I’m writing this now and thinking of what I’m to be occupying my time with and moving into over the next year is the focus of this post. The why in my case has to do with a revelation of the reason I am invested in writing music of any kind, which is to explore context and the subjective. It is an intellectual pursuit, as well as an emotional one. I don’t know what it’s like to be spiritual, not in any true sense of the word, but I do know that sound captivates me on a primal level—and I’m likely not alone in this way. The quest to understand and make sense of that “spiritual” feeling is what leads to the structure of music; it is the why.

As to what else I’ve been up to musically over the past few years, the events of the past few months are well known. Yes, I left that world for it to be the domain of those who have arrived in that place of culture and music along the long journey which their why has brought them to organically. True enough, I enjoy playing loud and fast guitar and by no means am I writing that out of my foreseeable future, but in terms of existing in the actual culture of that genre and market, I am a fundamental stranger and in a way was doing nothing else than taking on aspects of something I did not belong to. I was an impostor and there were expectations of me to be a certain person who I was not; and fundamentally the issue at heart here is that I cannot be anything other than what I have been as my experiences and past are what have formed the structures of my brain, the neural pathways that dictate the potential of my actions and “choices”; though I can shift that over long periods of time, I can find new experiences that would change who I am, at the end of it all I realized that I didn’t want this to take up such a large and overwhelming aspect of my life. The journey to get to who I needed to be to live in that world properly would come at the cost of what feels right to me—what feels right for me. And fundamentally, that vision, at its pinnacle of potential achievement would still fail me in my why, my reason for doing what it is that I do with music and why I’m drawn to it. Philosophically, ideologically and politically I did and still do not belong there and to do so would push me toward madness and misery while existing as an inauthentic figure in the greater perspective of that culture. That is not right for me to do to people who find themselves organically in such settings.. Were it any other way, the myriad of challenges that existed in that world would’ve been something I could’ve been capable of solving.

And so I’m here now, focusing on music for the new year and the directions I wish to explore. I intend on capitalizing on a number of dreams I’ve had for the past few years that lost out in the competition for the mental resources of my brain, but I’m also looking to expand in new ways that seek to build off of where I’ve been musically in all senses. The starting point in this case is in the analysis of social facts within the context of music, but still explored in a musical sense. This breaks down into a variety of dimensions, but chief among them are intonation, composition and texture.

Harbinger represents a move toward this. I view this piece as directional, in that it is not an end unto itself but a way for me to understand these musical aspects in practice, not in theory. Its structure is very loose and the existence of this as a piece came to me as I was setting up my new recording tools. It borrows from much of what I’ve done in the past, but it also has its mind set on a new path—an awareness of growth. It is a representation of this time and place in my life and is the echo of many things in my life that have come to an end, as well as a foreshadowing. Harbinger demonstrated the why I was babbling on about earlier and it gives me the ability to reflect on my musical role.

In recent times I’ve gone into more technical detail about my pieces, including aspects of the theories behind them. Right now I am weighing whether or not this is appropriate. Does my music require “notes” to guide the listener along? I’m not sure. It is possible that it does in some cases, but not others. As far as Harbinger is concerned, I am doubtful that it’s necessary or even authentic considering how this piece was built and came about, which was an organic process that took place over several days and rethinking the texture and composition of various parts. Long-form improvisation might be a better way to think of it than composition and as a result I won’t sit down to write up any notes on the theories and thought processes aside from the meta perspective I gave on its role as a musical piece for myself moving into a new year.

Having said that, I recommend a quite and calm listening space for Harbinger. It demands attention and does not speak outward, but rather inward.

 

New Release – Constituent

constituent_itunes

After some disastrous issues with my audio hardware, including an interface which seemed to enjoy sending power spikes into my computer and a failed attempt to solder a new USB socket onto the board (a project I may try again pending a new soldering iron), I finally had the equipment and time necessary to finish a new piece.

Constituent is the product of new equipment, a new DAW, some more focused approaches to ambient/minimalist concepts I previously worked on, a slightly different approach to Just Intonation, and some personal experiences represented in the overall feel and title of the piece.

I could yammer on and on about the new equipment, and while it does factor into my experience of making this piece–but knowing the overall realm of “audio” it will likely spark conversation that I find rather distracting and, frankly, very annoying. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

There is truly no end to the amount of musicians, regardless of genre, who prefer to flee from any mention of musical “theory.” Sucks to be them. Ultimately music theory is, for me, an informed and educated approach to understanding and creating music. When I began writing ambient music, I simultaneously tackled two musical theories: Ambient music theory on its own, and Just Intonation. I had the fortune of studying with Jon Catler, as well as resources such as Harry Partch’s A Genesis of a Music to work with when it came to Just Intonation. For ambient music theory, I spent a great deal of time reading interviews and other material from the likes of Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Robert Rich, to name a few. WNYC’s New Sounds program also played a critical role.

I saw ambient music, however, as a way to create a malleable sonic environment, one that I was free to create my own terms and theories for. One of the first was the concept of the “dynamic drone.” While I’m by no means the first person to do such a thing, this was my terminology and desire for a drone that would shift in some way in its environment.

Constituent utilizes a very basic “dynamic drone.” After playing around with a few different loops for a while, I settled on a single string being plucked on the lap steel. This note was then slowed own by half and reversed. The result is the deep swell that rises to a thick stop as the loop brings the note back to its origin point. This note was coated in a few different modulations and two different FX-heavy reverb patches.

This process created a new effect for me: It introduced silence. While it may seem like I’d be no stranger to silence, looking back on my previous ambient works, very little is actually used. There is a tendency to fill the aural spectrum with sound, albeit in a minimalist way. Additionally, the use of delays, reverbs and devices such as eBows tend to create a sort of never-ending field of sound. Having this reverse effect on the single note created for a moment a pause of silence before the swell would loop back around again. I thought about leaving this alone, but felt inspired to play with it a little bit further. I wanted to improvise with silence in a way that one would with chord progressions–respecting the gaps of sound as best as I could.

My approach to Just Intonation is to gather a small number of powerful notes and utilize them to the best of their harmonic capabilities. Many people often here of Harry Partch’s 43-tone scale and similar adventures into Just Intonation and come to believe that epic scales are the only suitable approach. While it is true that to create a sonic fabric that allows for many different chords and potential key change, you will in fact need a large amount of notes, the structure of most of my pieces allow me to settle on a small grouping of notes. In the past this has been as small as four to six different notes; for Constituent, I chose to work with eight notes.

While I by no means neglect the sometimes-troubled Undertone series, I tend to view Just Intonation from an Overtone perspective, as most probably do. Simply put: It’s easier. Overtones are a bit easier to conceptualize and, I’ve found, drastically easier to hear–even in the higher primes. Because of this I often resort to the Overtone series with a limit on the 13th partial in almost all my music. There are even a few pieces on the upcoming IKILLYA album that make use of a few microtones. While I specifically tuned my guitars to hit these notes exactly in the studio, I usually bend and nail these notes by ear live (I also throw them in all over the place on older IKILLYA songs as well.)

Undertones, sadly, were always something “I’d get to.” Initially I thought about writing a new Dust piece solely with Undertone pitches both as a way to continue what I started with the first installment, and also for myself to create a piece that would sort of serve as a study piece for the harmonic nature of the Undertone series. While this may indeed happen in the future, I decided to use Constituent as an opportunity to start making more use of Undertones.

Though Constituent may not have distinct movements, it does have certain sections to it. After the dynamic drone swells in a few times, I begin what I refer to as a “harmonic improvisation” over the drone. Taking the 8-tone Undertone scale, I explored the harmonic effects these pitches had on the overall piece. Over time these notes begin to bleed through the silence–the same way a jazz or blues piece would grab those “blue-notes” that don’t exactly fit the key. Toward the end of the piece I engage in what I refer to as a “melodic improvisation.” Being somewhat unhappy with a piece that just sort of improvises to no real end, I improvised a melody and stuck with it: making small shifts in volume and cadence. The piece ends on this melody that came to me in the middle of the song. It’s not very distinct, and is perhaps best understood in retrospect.

I should note that even though I strove for accuracy in representing the Undertone pitches, it is more than likely that I’m off by a few cents here and there (perhaps more). Not only is it a bit harder to trust my ear when it comes to the Undertone series, the nature of the lap steel, which was both picked and played with an eBow on Constituent, creates somewhat unstable ground. Pressure, as well as the wide surface area of the steel itself makes it difficult to be precise. Ultimately, if one wishes to play with perfect intonation, be it in Just Intonation or Equal Temperament, they’d have to utilize completely computerized instruments–something I’m not terribly interested in.

The title Constituent itself is the result of several specific dreams I’ve had over the course of my life. I envision the strange resonance these dreams have in the waking world as being very similar to the mood Constituent sets. I’m not going to elaborate on this any further.


Constituent is currently available on my Bandcamp page. At some point I’ll upload this and other pieces to other streaming/download services.

 

New Release – Dust: One

Dust

_3 years ago I finished the two tracks that would end up being featured as Complex Silence 31. Earlier that year I had released three other works (Apparitions, Turbulent Serenity & The Distant).

These projects were all a part of a new musical direction I had discovered. Though it was a radical departure from the shred-based metal and rock music I had done previously, I can see hints of this form in some of my earliest music.

Complex Silence 31 came about right when I hit a few serious changes in my life—some more difficult than others. As a result, I took a break from publishing music—though I never stopped writing music. I explored some new areas of sound, wrote and recorded a few things, but never found the ability to commit to a finalized project. Toward the end of 2013 I also rejoined IKILLYA and started playing metal again, touring the United States and a few other countries.

While working on the new IKILLYA album, I realized that I owed it to myself to pick up where I left off 3 years ago: Exploring ambient soundscapes, drones, noise and music theory through just intonation.

This return comes in the form of Dust: One, a drone piece based on a single justly intonated chord, mixing both sine waves and sustained strings on lap steel guitar. Dust comes out of several writing sessions I’ve had over the past couple of months, and my decision to release this piece of music first was intentional.

If I was going back to this realm of ambience, of utilizing sound as a means of occupying space and time, it had to be a drone. Though it’s not something that everyone can relate to, drones have a powerful amount of art and philosophy inherent in their structure. It’s a form with ancient and primitive origins alongside spiritual implications.

I took a chord that I was working with for another piece, one that I found particular interesting, and used this to set the scene for Dust: One. Previous works of mine did maintain a singular focus on a chord, harmony or slight melodic movement, but with Dust I wanted to only focus on this chord—I wanted no variation in pitch from the origin. Filters and modulations I ended up using do blur the lines a bit, but they are tethered to the tones of this four-note chord.

While my work shares a lot in common with electronic music, I make very little use of electronic instruments. Previous works have used some synths, but these have never been the focus. This is due to a couple of reasons: Firstly, my native instrument, for better or for worse, is the guitar, and secondly, I’ve dedicated this area of musical life to solely using Just Intonation. Finding tunable synths can be a bit of a challenge, and it’s much easier for me to use a fretless guitar, lap steel guitar or specially fretted guitar to achieve this. Even with tunable synths, however, you are largely committed to using a traditional keyboard or piano scroll, which heavily favors equal temperament in terms of how its layout.

While I make use of Custom Scale Editor in order to generate reliable reference pitches, dealing with physical instruments, even ones specifically designed for Just Intonation, create margins of error you just have to accept. Even using an ebow on an open string can result in small discrepancies in pitch. The world of electronic music, however, has the capability to overcome this issue with mathematical precision.

For Dust, given its concept, I knew I had to have something a bit more reliable than what I used in the past. In order to do this, I generated a few sine waves tuned to the specific frequencies of the chord that makes up One. I did this twice, taking up two different octaves. I also added a bit of static to thicken everything up and give the notes something to breathe through. I added a number of filters and modulations that I felt best suited the nature of the chord, and each tone within the chord. The result is some slight variance, but one that is firmly rooted in pure tonality.

I wasn’t satisfied with a purely digital experience, however; that’s not who I am as a musician. Using my lap steel and an ebow, I recorded drones of each note, added some processing and blended this in with the sine waves and static. The droning strings actually start and end the piece with about a 15 second lead in and fade out time respectively.

In the past I chose song titles based on words and phrases I thought sounded interesting, or loosely described the process by which a piece was created.

With Dust there’s some similarity here. The title represents “what’s left over,” after you remove meter, melody, arrangement, composition, and all structural elements. As such, this piece is musical “dust.” It is what is left over, what has degraded—by natural forces. Also, during my 3-year hiatus from ambient music, I intended to start a number of experimental projects, most of which fell through for a number of reasons. Dust is an echo of these dead projects (some of which may be rebuilt). It is not a sign of defeat, or even loss: It stands as the resonance of musical passion and love.

Dust: One can be thought of as a mediation of all that could’ve been, but in an indifferent, cosmic way. It stands as a remnant.

Drone music is a versatile music. It can be listened to in the background of daily life—similar to how Brian Eno once described the purpose and function of the ambient genre—but it can also be active. Dust is what I like to refer to as a “compound drone,” as there are a number of different elements that go into its structure—though they are all oriented in the same direction. Because of this, listening to it over a period of time can create different experiences. While mixing and reviewing this piece, there are several distinct emotions and sounds that would surface. This occurs at the very point where internal consciousness meets external stimulation: How much of my experience was illusory, or the actual objective experience of these tones occupying physical space through sound waves? There’s no answer to this. It’s an endless question, but one that can only be experienced through this form of music.


 

Dust: One is currently available on my Bandcamp page, and will be uploaded to my Soundcloud shortly.