Contemplative works: Introversations I & II (2019)

Every once in awhile I reorganise some of my eclectic ouevre into a compilation album, as a way of giving certain pieces of music a sense of contrast or definition that they may not have had on their original release.

Introversations I & II (contemplative works 2016 – 19) gather together previously released acoustic & electroacoustic instrumentals that share a contemplative, wistful or otherwise reflective tone.

Often these more reflective tracks have been tucked in with less ambient bedfellows, so these two compilations bring them together and give them some breathing room among their own kind. Sounds range across acoustic guitar, clean electric guitar, ukulele, octave mandola, saz, box slide guitar, smatterings of cello (commonly as bass but occasionally bowed). Most of the pieces are acoustic with subtle electronic embellishments, others use more obvious electronics to create an atmosphere around the instrument. Many of them are spontaneous improvisations that got caught in their ‘wild’ state, others underwent a process of domestication, but all are mood poems in one sense or another.

The albums these pieces have come from are diverse and include:  Pigbox & Co. (Vol 2), The Ears Have Walls, Marzipan, Stelliferous, Melancholia, Loveletters From Beneath The Waves, Threestringbox, Tectonic, and Cupcake. Many of these albums have a very different musical focus to the tracks I’ve selected here (eg Cupcake and Tectonic are ‘rock’ albums, Loveletters is an electronic ambient album etc). As such, the pieces here often felt tangential to whatever context I was working within at the time, as branches of a tree. This explains the inclusion here of pieces featuring electric guitar – at the time of creating them, I was very much exploring electric guitar as an almost-acoustic texture, using clean tones to generate gentle layers. Of course I’d heard this in other people’s music countless times, it had just never occured to me to engage with an electric guitar in that way…it takes me awhile to get round to these things sometimes….

A handful of unreleased tracks have been included also.  On Introversations I, the ukulele piece In Good Conscience, and on Introversations II, there are three: Shadder Hunt, Unsaved Data and Squid Moon. The latter is an improvised recording test from 2004 – I had just bought my first ever ‘multitrack recording unit’, a ZOOM MRS – 1608, and Squid Moon was my first test to see if I could get the unit to work. I played the first chords that came to mind, it literally only took a few minutes and remains unedited. At that time, everything I played on guitar was rhythm (albeit intricate – Spondooli-style), so I never soloed or improvised, and I think I was a bit shocked that I’d managed this much. Often I find those quiet, seemingly insignificant, breakthroughs in self-guided learning are like depth charges, and can have enormous lasting impact on developing confidence, technique, creative dexterity and future exploration.

The other tracks were orphaned experiments that never found a home elsewhere (see also And Then I Wasn’t….) In Good Conscience and Unsaved Data were experiments in taking my use of ukulele into more abstract territory through the use of electronic atmospherics, a process I had begun with another track, Solar Sonar, from the Melancholia album. I continued this approach (mostly on guitar) into many other pieces that became the album And Then I Wasn’t…, in which I was honing certain uses of electronic effects I’d developed while making Loveletters From Beneath The Waves. In these pieces I was also evolving a more ‘abstract’ compositional process – rather than mapping out a completed form, I would record spontaneous musical impulses, often unrelated, then edit them together to discover something altogether unexpected where the sounds overlapped. I had used this editing approach throughout Loveletters, but always with an ear towards harmonious overlaps, and now I was leaning more towards overlaps that were perhaps a bit more dissonant or unpredictable.

Shadder Hunt, on the other hand, went the other way and had a clear form in mind: I revisited Threestringbox, in particular the acoustic ‘dark folk’ mood of Under The Grimacing Moon. Armed with the ambient atmospherics I’d learned making Loveletters, I wanted to see if I could come up with an ‘ambient mountain music’ piece, perhaps sonically a little more sophisticated than my earlier attempts. It’s become a fashionable ‘genre’ these days, but I was remembering some of Daniel Lanois’ beautifully evocative solo work from the 90s, and I found his approach inspiring back then even though I wasn’t recording music.

In retrospect I find it quite interesting listening back over these pieces as a group unto themselves, they all take on a very different character than on their original albums. Of course, knowing each of them intimately means I hear their many technical flaws, but every track here was an experiment for me in one way or another, and each marks a moment in my undulating learning ‘curve’…(or maybe I experience learning as more like a ‘Moebius strip’?). All demonstrate stages of learning about shaping sound, technical understandings about production that I gather instinctively, as I find tutorials difficult to learn from. Parallel to that, all these recordings are stages of discovery in my playing – I have no desire to be a ‘virtuoso’ and I am not a ‘music nerd’ – I just enjoy the pure pleasure of following a musical impulse to see what happens, and I create music intuitively, by tuning into the intricate immediate relationships between body & mind, the ear, the eye and the fingers. An important thread in many of these pieces is improvisation, a skill that most musicians develop by ‘jamming’ with other musicians, and a situation that has rarely been available to me, for various reasons. Also, a jazz musician will improvise while simultaneously having a metacognitive, highly-technical mental map with which to navigate. I have no idea of the key, the scales or the notes I’m playing, just a loose set of patterns to muck about with. Consequently, many of these recordings are left in their original improvised form, because something converged for them to be just right, and I feel I could neither replicate nor improve upon them. This is probably best illustrated by the tracks Fingers Of God Across The Horizon (on saz), Are You There Yet? (slide guitar with an Indian feel), Raga: Sunrise In The Valley (octave mandola), and Redemption (octave mandola).

There’s such a diversity of aural ‘spaces’ here, but I think all these works complement each other well, and create a pleasant ambience as a whole. In a similar way, I have created a couple of other collections of previous recordings: two ‘rock’ compilations (the noisier Rock Samples Vol 1, and the smoother Rock Samples Vol 2), and a compilation of music with a spacious, slightly darker, ‘nocturnal’ tone (The Mood).

The cover images for the Introversations albums are both water surfaces. Vol I is a detail from a photo taken by Heidi, looking down from the top of the immense Gordon River Dam, of rings created by water dripping from overhanging ferns and moss on the steep riverbank. Vol II is a photo I took of yacht masts reflected in the water of the moorage at Bellerive, moments before my first psychologist appointment to have myself ‘formally’ assessed as autistic (I was in somewhat of a reflective state of mind – but then, I usually am.)