Although these two albums were created as very separate entities from each other, I’m placing them together here for a couple of reasons (one being my autistic tendency to perceive patterns and connections in these things….).
Chronologically, they were released within a couple of months of each other, although a lot of Is Land: Edges Defined By Water had been recorded the previous year (2017) as an outgrowth of the ‘African’ album Skin. Both drew their inspirations from the musics of particular ‘ethnic’ cultures – in the case of Is Land, it was my love of AfroCuban and tropicana, the intersections of African with South American & Portugese music, particularly the tropical flavours of Angola and Cape Verde; for Gringo!, I was continuing my exploration of traditional Latin flavours through the more contemporary hybrid of spaghetti western music. Both albums are extending on my enduring taste for ‘exotic’ (from an Anglo perspective) musical traditions, evidenced elsewhere in my earlier albums An Anthology of Revised Ambiguities, Camel Lips, Marzipan, Skin and more recently, Cut From A Different Cloth. I suppose they all fall under the inadequate banner of ‘world folk’ music, but my passion for mimicking these ‘other’ musics is more akin to the drive of the anthropologist & the ethnomusicologist, and the sound-gathering of remarkable people like Alan Lomax. As creative languages, I enjoy the intricacy of the rhythms, the possibilities and technical challenges offered by unusual time signatures and scales that bend themselves out of shape.
The other connection I make between these two albums is in the context of my personal evolution in home-recording. Every album teaches me something more about production, editing, and technical aspects of capturing sound. I am entirely self-taught, I create all the sounds myself and I work instinctively, not having the kind of brain required for the metacognition of a technician or sound engineer. Both of these albums sharpened up my technique on all the instruments involved – percussion, guitar, cello bass, ukulele etc; both albums also honed my sense of composition and arrangement. As a consequence I feel that both these albums far better capture a sense of musicians actually playing together, maybe a more authentic organic cohesion and aural space, than on my previous recordings playing multiple instruments.
Is Land: Edges Defined By Water (2018)
A retrospective release mostly recorded Mar – May 2017, then shelved while I was kidnapped by a string of other inspirations.
These tracks evolved out of recording the album Skin, in which I delved into musical flavours from across Africa & South America. In the process of exploring African music more deeply, I came across the music of Angola, in particular the upbeat urban electric guitar-driven music popular in Luanda during the 60s & 70s, as well as the soulful, plaintive “morna” music of Cape Verde (already familiar to me via native diva Cesaria Evora). Both musical styles blend the influence of latin rhythms & sounds from Portuguese and Cuban music with traditional African musical wisdom, a mix I have always found delicious and inspiring.
Thematically, these pieces felt coastal, tropical, of sun and sea. The album was recorded at my home at that time, Eggs & Bacon Bay in southern Tasmania, looking out over the mouth of the Huon River as it flows into the southern ocean. While Tasmania is by no means tropical, it is an island, and in my experience there is a different psyche underlying all island cultures. One becomes more aware of edges, boundaries and space (limitations and shared), isolation as well as interconnectedness.
It was fascinating to research the African country of Angola, with its very troubled political history, and to learn how the urban African guitar music I was drawn to (and the creative culture) evolved through the Portuguese influence into a political voice against it. I was also listening to African music from non-coastal areas, in the style of acoustic ‘desert blues’, and was inspired to create the piece Please, substituting a battered 12-string mandolin for a more traditional African plucker:
‘Is Land’ refers to Being, the ‘is-ness’ of existence, and the shared ‘islandness’ of us all. ‘Edges Defined By Water’ is about our liquid composition, water molecules held tenuously together by consciousness, emotionally & psychically, dissolved invisibly at our edges, the shorelines of our physical bodies, merging into the less dense liquid of our atmosphere….we are all afloat, separated by – yet of – ocean, our particles gently eroded by entropy in time and space….
As described above, my illustration for the album’s cover tried to convey a sense of us all as droplets aswim in each other’s fluid nature, embedded like plankton in a petri dish universe…
Soundtrack To An Existential Mystery: A Life Composed & Performed by Bradfield Dumpleton. Gringo – the Existential Cowboy, Outsider, Alien, the Asperger, trying to untangle the spaghetti of his Mind, the abandoned frontiers and Ghost Towns of his Psyche, to make sense of a world he knows doesn’t want him, and with which he has no affinity.
In the process of recording Asp Burger and exploring more abrasive guitar textures, I recorded a few ideas that were on a musical tangent to that album – more minor-key, latin-derivative and in the territory of the grungey, brooding and darkly moody revivals of surf’n’western guitar bands I enjoyed in the early 80s, who of course had their roots in the weird confluence of spanish and rock forms in the 50s & 60s, with the excitement of tremolo and ultrareverb, B-Grade scifi / surf / hotrod subcultures, and a few darker mavericks of menace like Link Wray…
I think the first of these tangential ideas were improvisations that became Gringo’s Theme and Cactus Flower. As the lure of the genre became irresistible, an album concept began to formulate and quickly crystallise: to create a faux soundtrack to an imagined existential spaghetti western (is there really any other sort?), as a creative analogy of my lifelong experience as ‘outlier’, through the lens of my recent Aspergers diagnosis.
I’m sure the album doesn’t fit the current musical definitions of ‘cinematic’, but for me each piece has its own scene in the film, and the tracks follow the sequence of the film’s storyline. It was a great exercise in accessing all the mythological archetypes of the genre, the deeper roots of the much-diluted cliches and ‘tropes’, as an overlay to various stages of my own life.
With these themes in mind, I aimed for a diverse mix of styles – the grungy electric moments already described also come forward in The Restless March Of The Mind, Bad For Business and Disgruntled Dub; there are the atmospheric soundscapes Vulture Committee, Fever Dream and Even The Ghosts Got Outta This Town; and the more ‘latin folk’ compositions Likes Her Men Well Hung, The Ass Is Drunk, He Cannot Walk, Blue Bordello and El Otro Lado. Stylistically, Fever Dream is a deliberate detour – The Shaman finds Gringo half-dead in the desert, and guides him through visions of nonordinary reality to face Death in his fever trance. Samples from the other tracks are woven throughout to describe Gringo’s flashbacks of his journey
For the ‘folk’ pieces, I had some accumulated acoustic latin ideas I’d recorded on my phone – I couldn’t remember how I’d played them so I used the phone recordings as a foundation. I gave more thought to the arrangements of these compositions, using an ensemble sound that incorporated ukulele (in place of charango), acoustic guitar, twangy electric guitar, cello bass and percussion. I also tried bowing some cello parts in these pieces, with moderate success (never having learnt ‘how’) – a suitably mournful sawing, perhaps. I felt the overall effect of these ‘folk’ pieces was of some kind of small, bedraggled (and possibly drunk) Mexican group in the corner of some lamplit bordello in a dusty town, Outer Nowhere….
I also had a lot of fun adding cinematic sound FX: galloping horses, gunshots ricocheting, the creak of a gallows rope, vultures wheeling overhead, loose roof iron clanging in the wind…In Even The Ghosts Got Outta This Town, I used an old nylon string guitar given to my stepson by his grandma, Philomena. Said grandma is an accomplished fantasist writer and painter, and she had decorated the guitar in oil paint. Half the strings had clumps of oil paint on them, affecting the string resonance, so when played, created a sound as if through a ring modulator effect.
I even included two vocal numbers – a very rare occasion for me these days. Both were songs I’d had knocking around since the Mesozoic era, and I felt they added an offbeat humour, not uncommon in a spaghetti western. The Unwanted was originally a tango I half-wrote in the early 80s, with final lyrics completed in 1998. I’d recorded it once on the live Spondooli Brothers album A Month Of Moonbeams, and wanted to develop it a bit more for Gringo! The other song, Existential Cowboy Blues (2009), was a crowdpleaser back in the days I did solo acoustic gigs, and I gave it the full warped-out space cowboy treatment here, complete with UFOs and sheep bleating out into the cosmos. I placed it as the final track for the movie as the end credits are rolling.
Possibly the track that was the most fun to wrangle together, and brought me the most amused satisfaction (bearing in mind the whole album is tongue firmly in cheek), was Gringo Rides Again. I pulled out all stops and threw every beautiful western cliche I could at it, while trying to remain as authentic as possible. It could benefit from much better production, but I love it anyway – it’s a triumphant scene, after all!
Final credits, Gringo dissolves into the horizon, forever a Work In Progress, no sequels, an unsolved mystery, floats out into the Big Et Cetera………
For further amusement, and for those easily entertained, read the album notes, a text soundtrack to the music, the hero’s journey transcribed and steeped in metaphor, referencing each tune as the arc is traversed…