May – August 2019 was an especially fertile period for my guitar experimentation. After releasing Cupcake in March that year, I was especially drawn to clean electric guitar tones and the more ambient possibilities that this opened up. I had especially been listening to Danish jazz guitarist Jakob Bro, ambient country quartet SUSS, Daniel Lanois’ Goodbye To Language and similar ambient approaches to guitar in jazz and country settings. A couple of my earlier countryish experiments (in particular Big Water Country and Guidance Is Internal) were included on the eclectic And Then I Wasn’t… album that May, and I was composing a lot of jazz-influenced guitar pieces for what would become the Echo Location album later, but there were a couple of other tangents that took on a life of their own. These extended flights of freefall fancy became the ‘trollogy’: Music For Deep Procrastination, Music For Nervous Systems and Music For Avoiding Consensus Reality.
Music For Deep Procrastination (2019)
Poverty is the mother of invention, and ignorance often means you don’t know what you can’t do. This recording began as an attempt to emulate the sound of a pedal steel guitar with my standard 6 string electric guitar, which is a bit like trying to emulate the sound of a saxophone with a banana. I researched and found a pedal steel tuning for standard guitar, an open E9 with a sweet sound.
I soon learned that from there it’s not just a matter of playing slide, and I had to apply a very precise and delicate touch to get anything near what I heard in my head (I have a professional pedal steel player who sits in the back corner of my brain, which doesn’t help).
Anyway, I had fun exploring and got enough improvised sounds recorded to start giving them the ‘treatment’ – cut&pasting, subtle effects to create some space around the sounds, massage them a bit. To get the ‘swelling’ sound, I spent about a week meticulously editing individual slide notes to smooth out their edges. I ended up with one 22 minute drift of slightly skewed guitar ambience (the title track), and a more accessible 5 min track (All Tomorrow’s Maybies) which extended on my newfound ‘technique’.
I learned much later that an actual pedal steel is less an instrument than an incredibly complex piece of machinery, involving the subtle coordination of multiple levers, pedals and limbs, not to mention brain cells. Obviously one of those instruments one does not take an idle fancy to. The album title and tacky faux mandala cover motif is intended as a comment on the popular ‘music for enhanced relaxation / meditation focus / clarity of mind etc’, although I can report significantly enhanced procrastination when I listen to this one…
Music For Nervous Systems (2019)
Following Music For Deep Procrastination, a droll humour inspired me to create a series of 20 – 30 minute meditative, meandering, not-quite ambient, musical collage experiments – in the end I got as far as three albums, so I call them The Music For.. trollogy.
Music For Nervous Systems consists of one continuous 22 minute track, a jittery, shifting soundscape composed mainly of manipulated guitar textures, with some electronically-altered drumkit sounds shuffling in and out of focus.
This recording began with a particular sonic effect I’d used in one of the Echo Location recordings, using a tremolo guitar effect taken to an extreme. I liked its edgy, fluttery effect, reminiscent of certain early (as in medieval) synthesiser sounds, so I threw a few other ideas at it and the piece grew from there. The general creative process for all three of these albums was much the same – I would start recording a layer, adding a new layer devised on the spot, until the original idea had shifted into something slightly different, which would continue to change shape as I improvised new layers – composing intuitively as I was recording, until the piece became quite long, with several passages of variation, and finished as something quite altered from its beginning point. And after recording, the joyous hours of mind-numbing minutae that is autistic editing…
This album isn’t intended to be relaxing, though it does have a certain busy ambient jazz quality. I chose the title as a double entendre ie music for systems that are nervous, and music that anything with a nervous system can experience.
Music For Avoiding Consensus Reality (2019)
The third and final album in the trollogy, Music For Avoiding Consensus Reality employs the same creative process of building-it-as-it-happens, but makes for a meatier departure in style, and is perhaps a bit more sophisticated in its rendering.
The album consists of two tracks, the 27 minute epic Floydian Slipfrippery, and In Which The Learned Professor Submits That Reality Is, In Fact, Pearshaped, almost as long as its name, at 8:24 minutes.
While there is still plenty of electronic twiddlery, and shapeshifting from one musical idea to the next in its sonic explorations, this album does not pretend to be ambient, driven more by rock-textured guitar riffs and dual bass guitar melodies. All my music projects begin with a particular sound or effect as a springboard to further exploration; in this case, the catalyst was as simple as re-borrowing my friend Ross Douglas’ (SEA Records) bass guitar & POD guitar amp simulator, then combining that with rhythm & sound samples I created on the Oscilab app.
This is still one of my favourite albums and I never tire of hearing it. It is also the first time I use Heidi’s vocals – we recorded samples of her singing single notes, which I layered together to create chordal passages that are haunting and ethereal. As the first track evolved and took shape, it became a playful nod in the direction of childhood heroes King Crimson, and to a lesser degree Pink Floyd. The piece exhales into a smooth groove in the final quarter, anticipating the groove-driven second track, which, as The Learned Professor Submits, turns itself a little insideout as it progresses..
This album’s combination of electric bass with the Oscilab app, and greater variety of guitar textures, simultaneously sprouted a crop of electronic dub-influenced recordings – such a quantity that they also became a trilogy of albums: Dub An Dubberer, Dubber An Dubbererer, and i!