I’ve been thinking about the timelessness of creativity. It seems that ideas come from a place unencumbered by time, surroundings or circumstance. Yet as I reflect on a life of artistic expression I consider the influence the past might have on the creative moment. When I was very young, the historical past seemed only a story that was already finished, gone, without potency in the present. In my naivete I believed that civilization had moved toward perfection, and any problems were just glitches that needed ironing out. But as I grew older, I realized that the past is still present, still very much with us, still casting its shadows into reality.
Music springs from a deeper source, and in certain ways is independent of the chronological age of the artist. Even pieces I wrote when I was a boy have the same essence as my current work. But as the years have gone by, there are also meaningful changes. Life brings us both joy and sorrow at the outer poles of experience. These emotions carve canyons in our being that can channel a greater flow of the creative force, in its myriad manifestations. In this way the past is still alive for all of us, as our present is ferried forward within these currents.
Our culture is a desert in some ways; from the shallowness of consumerism to the dumbing down and dilution of music as a commodity. Music was never meant to be a commodity. Even though music can offer a limitless range of enjoyment from simple to profound, it also has the power to impart something from soul to soul. While being intensely personal, I find my music concerned with communication of something ineffable, something perhaps of import and meaning. That is my wish, and to achieve this communion even rarely is what sustains me along the way.
Notes on the compositions
Yamour encompasses my creative output for solo guitar over the last six years. Only two pieces hearken back to earlier days. “Moontan” was written in 1999 and “Darkness Dreaming” in 1986. Many of the pieces are in altered tunings, notably variations on renaissance lute tuning (3 to F#), which I find natural and refreshing for the guitar.
In composing these works I drew stylistic inspiration from both historical periods and current genres, whatever each work needed to give voice to its individual character. Most of the works are polyphonic, often in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. I like crystalline structures in which each note has an important and thought-out role in supporting the form and illuminating the internal patterns.
"Yamour" (the piece) is the newest of all the works, finished in September 2011. The tuning, D-A-D-F#-B-D, offered some beautiful sonorities impossible to get in standard tuning. The stylistic directions surprised me as the piece evolved, blending multiple influences into a groove-based structure. It became clear that one section called out for a vocal texture. The voice is simple, and without words, as it parallels an inner line. We respond powerfully to the voice, but it can be dangerous to use in instrumental music. A little voice goes a long way; too much and the listener will relegate the guitar to the role of mere accompaniment. This I strove to avoid, wanting to keep the pure instrumental form as the essential thing.
"Glimmerings" has some subtle influence from early music, beginning with tuning the guitar like a renaissance lute. "Knowing" has a development section which is a nod to Scarlatti. I've always admired the joy and freedom with which he developed his themes. "Glimmer" uses some right-hand harmonic techniques that I learned from Lenny Breau, and "Joyn" is a long exploration of the pitches 3-4-2-3, much of it during an ostinato accompaniment. I'm pleased by the emotional metamorphosis at the arrival of the coda.
The six movements of "Woven Harmony" combine the concepts of weaving and guitar. The two pieces dealing with "Warp" (which are the structural threads you typically don't see in a carpet or tapestry) are more abstract, expressing the underlying structure of reality that is beyond our direct comprehension. To balance this, the two pieces titled "Weft" deal more with unapologetic expression of beauty and spaciousness, echoing the visible threads of a weaving that also carry the color and pattern that we perceive as form and beauty.
"Centerpeace" was born from a collaboration with Andy Summers. For this recording I have rewritten it to give it life as a solo guitar work. Also in the tuning of "Yamour," it is a landscape of texture and color in B minor.
"Mechanism" embodies a type of writing that has grown in me over the last decade. Very intricate and complex, I had the idea of two little machines that become self-aware, then aware of each other, and they try to figure out how to communicate with each other. Sometimes they interact back and forth, sometimes together, not always in the same key, as they try to figure out their new world of sentience. The energy is rock and roll but the complexity is on another level.
"Moontan" is one of the few pieces I have written that use right-hand slapping and tapping techniques on the fingerboard, for the simple reason that these techniques have become overused and tend to sound derivative. I'm wary of trends and tend to try to avoid them. However, this is a sort of tribute to Michael Hedges, the composer and player who pioneered these techniques with an artistry and emotional depth that is still unmatched.
"Skerries" is an Irish-flavored piece, written after a long drive with my wife looking for a place to stay, and as we got farther and farther from Dublin we found the town of Skerries, which not only had a room but a lovely charm as well.
"Avenue of the Giants" is named for the old highway in Northern California that winds through what is left of the ancient redwood groves. It's a primordial experience to visit these forests. And yes, I am tapping my foot on this track.
"Call" is in a Jewish style, and was written after exploring the villages of northern Spain, and finding the old Jewish quarters in each village, which all lost their populations at the same time in 1492. I love Spain, and I am fascinated with its rich and turbulent history. "Call" is really variations on a theme in which I tried to recombine again both Spanish and Jewish sentiment.
I have a deep love for J.S. Bach, and I decided that one movement from the cello suite in C minor would be a compelling addition to this recording. I play this Prelude as a cellist would - I am in cello tuning (Bach used a scordatura tuning for this particular work of C-G-D-G) and try to play with cello fingering and phrasing to capture its essence, and not simply be a translation onto the guitar. No notes have been added, no harmonies "filled out", as is unfortunately done with many arrangements of Bach's cello works, often marring the perfection of his polyphony.
"Maya's Rag" is a simple Chet Atkins style piece that I improvised for my daughter. I thought it lightened the air in a semi-humorous way after the ponderous quality of the Bach Prelude.
"Darkness Dreaming" is the oldest piece on this recording, and the last piece I decided to add, and it is also the last one on the disc. It was an improvisation in 1986, in a search for a peaceful foil to troubled times. I play this on steel string guitar, as the sustain and overtones needed for the spirit of this piece work best with metal strings.