Kalonga (2022)

Although chronologically some of these recordings were made prior, Kalonga follows on from Floater, and the pieces all emerged from the same event, ie having to leave our home of the last 5 years.

Kalonga is the name of the dirt road leading to where the house is situated – I’ve always liked the visual & rhythmic shape of the word, and now it’s become how we refer to the old house, as well as the place of it. Heidi’s atmospheric photo on the album’s cover shows the beginning of the road before it begins its steep climb towards the mountain ridge, which can be seen in the distance. The photo beautifully captures one of the place’s many deep moods, and its clouded tone seemed fitting at this time.

As described in the previous post, Kalonga was a soothing bush environment that offered us privacy & sanctuary, making it much easier to manage our family’s various sensitivities and challenges. And as most autists will tell you, sudden environmental changes can be particularly difficult to cope with, especially those imposed from ‘outside’.

We were given two month’s notice, up to the date our lease was due for renewal. This might seem a generous timeframe except that when we secured a new house within the first few weeks, the Kalonga landlord wouldn’t allow us to terminate the lease any earlier. So, while the timeframe enabled us to move / clean house by degrees, it meant paying rent on two houses. Heidi settled into the new house ahead of me, while I continued to pack & transport seemingly endless carloads of our ‘stuff’ and gradually clean the (big) old house. Heidi and I were already having a turbulent patch in our relating, which often sends me into feelings of panic & shutdown, so we were both just barely holding ourselves together through the additional crisis of uprooting our lives.

Like many autists (and many creative people), I need a quiet, private environment for baseline functioning and in order to work effectively. Being able to create music at home – my work – is the focused activity I depend on most for my mental & emotional equilibrium; ideally I need uninterrupted solitude to feel creatively relaxed. This had already been compromised over the last few years, when Heidi began working from home – something she also needs for managing her own (autistic / ADHD) sensitivities. Knowing that we were moving to an environment with very little privacy and lots of intrusive external noise intensified my distress during the move, as it meant even more restrictions on my own creative self-management.

So I spent the last weeks alone at the old house, taking advantage of the empty space to record as many samples of live percussion and cello bass as I could – at least then I’d have some form of acoustic sounds to make music with at the new house.  Ever and always, adapt, adapt, adapt….

Kalonga is possibly more eclectic than the other two albums from this period.  In part this is because the pieces were created at different points in the two-month process of transition. Thrust and the 24-minute I Reach, The World Retreats emerged in the early stages, soon after the shock of being told to move, and before we knew where we would live next. We hadn’t yet begun the process of extraction, of dismantling our lives and emptying ourselves from the house. In different ways they reflect the initial feelings of uncertainty, anger and anxiety that sharpened other tensions and strains in our lives.

Thrust was constructed from loops of a fuzzed-out electric bass riff, and I cannibalised some electric guitar sonics from my Crux album to add a ‘melodic’ layer.  Mostly I was just enjoying the visceral texture and vibrational pressure of the sound, its hot disgruntlement, and I like what this adds to the overall texture of the album.  The sound of Wombat consciousness: head down, keep digging, keep pushing forward into the blackness, muscles driven by the instinct toward motion.

Following those two initial responses, Inertia emerged later, sinking into the more deeply internalised moods that continued for the rest of the process.  For several weeks I was navigating severe depression and heightened emotionality; I was in crisis and barely functioning inside, outwardly driving myself into action. I was acutely aware of time constraints, logistical demands and emotional chaos, and despite having the house to myself I was struggling to feel musically motivated. I had to force myself into it, and Inertia reflected the kind of molasses state I was murked in, hence the title.

In order to attack my creative blankness, I recorded and modified some bowed cello sounds to create the spectral swurls in the background, then added the noncommittal bassline that sort of mopes around and hangs suspended indecisively throughout.  The electric guitar parts were my first attempt at playing since breaking my wrist last year, and I had to keep it simple. I’ve lost a lot of dexterity in that hand, so it was confronting and frustrating to encounter my limits; but I also enjoyed the subtle nuances of sound and texture in what occurred. Elsewhere I added the cheesy warped-out keyboard section for its bleak humour.

The two remaining pieces, Our Gentle Collisions and Dismantled, grew from the very last recordings I made at Kalonga. Over the final two days at the house, I attempted to record a library of individual notes on cello bass, including the semi-tones and accompanying octaves, and a few variations such as doublets & triplets. I was pressed for time, there was environmental noise from the rain and general house-creakings, and it was a tedious job trying to ensure each note was in tune; but the result is now a library of individual bass notes I can assemble into basslines (or something) later at the new house.  Of course it would be much simpler if I could just play the instrument, but doing it this way is a creative response in adapting to circumstance, and will naturally bring about other novel creative processes.

Recording each note involved playing it several times, with up to a dozen variations, on its own track, which I’d then mute and move on to recording the next note (from C to C# to D etc – 12 different notes in all). When I came to edit the samples, compelled by creative and scientific curiosity, I played all the separate tracks simultaneously, stacked on top of each other. As all the notes were recorded at random intervals, the result was a glorious cacophony of acoustic bass notes bouncing off each other in unimaginable sequences and micro-relationships, like a room full of tiny dodgem cars. Surprising patterns appeared, that made melodic or rhythmic sense for a fleeting moment before collapsing into the next novel convergence.  I experimented with some more ‘selectively random’ combinations, layering less tracks, and two of the results are included on Kalonga.

Our Gentle Collisions, to my ear, has a somewhat African quality, like freeform arhythmic plucking on a sinew-stringed harp.  When I recorded the bass samples I wasn’t aiming for perfectly clean notes, nor a consistent room sound, so there’s quite a few ‘rough’ textures: strings buzzing & rattling, bird & rain sounds from outside, house creaks & clunks, clothes rustling, and inconsistencies in my playing, which I feel add to the organic effect of an intimate & expressive acoustic instrument. For this piece I allowed a degree of serendipity by only layering the notes of C, D, E, F & G, and they seem to sit within a comfortable key together. The result was easy on the ears in its irregular way, and suggested a certain feeling of harmonious disagreement. This led me to choose the title, acknowledging the times when H & I manage to navigate our differences with loving kindness, intelligence or humour, rather than polarisation.

In creating Dismantled, I was more selective and discerning in its construction. I listened to brief chunks of the overlayed tracks and selected small slices of randomness that made musical sense, then used those slices to create looped patterns for a bassline.  I often have a taste for making music that sounds like it’s falling apart, with erratic spaces between notes, or melodies that crumble away – where the musical shape only just holds together, tenuously, or even collapses completely into entropy. After I added the piano and tremolo guitar parts, I felt the piece had that sense of dismantlement, appropriate to my own feelings of life dismantled by the move.

The meandering epic of I Reach, The World Retreats (mentioned earlier as one of the first tracks I recorded in these sessions) is mostly constructed around some electric bass noodlings, which I’ve messed with electronically and looped as a thematic element. I may have had a momentary ProgRockish delusion or two at some point. In the second half I use the bass as a more chordal foundation. To this I’ve added various rhythmic samples & loops I’ve had in storage, most of which are cut from a recording of me playing a rainwater tank with rubber mallets (also featured in parts of my Red Tape Bardo series), and a drumkit improvisation from the same time. Over the bass chords in the second half I’ve added a darker Moorish tone with some bursts of distorted ‘melodica’ and serrated Fripp-ish guitariness.

In the end, I like the textural diversity on Kalonga. Once I’d assembled the pieces, I felt they formed a kind of fragmented portrait of the place itself, and a few of the many different moods we lived there over the years.