Each of the nine songs on my latest record, Platforms, have a lot in common. They are all performed using a picking technique that combines a finger style approach with the use of a flat pick. This is called hybrid picking. This is the “platform” that the songs for the album are based on. They all feature syncopated melodies and strong bass lines and are best performed using the hybrid approach. All are about the length of the modern pop song and use some variation of a strophic form. Beyond these similarities, though, each is a piece of unique character with its own voice, though some are related in subtle ways.
Hacksaw is closely related to Call Signs. The two pieces have very different musical goals, but the picking of the arpeggios are nearly identical. One arpeggio in Hacksaw was actually the kernel that Call Signs was written around. Move and 200 share the same lonely, pulsing introductory call on the low E string, but unique rhythms and time signatures propel them in different directions. In 200, that call leads to the staging of a wild guitar solo section while Move is more focused on the composition and technical aspects of the melodic interplay. Circles shares a brief ascending quartal harmonic line with Call Signs, where the transposed incarnation punctuates the end of a phrase.
Even with all of these elements linking them together, each piece has an individual statement that requires care in the execution and recording for it to be fully realized. I experimented with the string height of the guitar. For songs that required a bolder sound, I raised the height, even if doing so made the piece more difficult to play. I recorded Momentum several different times experimenting with the length of my fingernails. I ultimately cut them very short for the recording which helped bring out the galloping bass line. Before recording, I tried a variety of strings. I settled on Elixr brand’s poly web coated guitar strings, 80/20 alloy. Traditional phosphor bronze guitar strings were too warm for the Taylor guitar that I used for the entire recording. I experimented with different mic positions for each song. Some recordings had more sound dampening in the room that others. At the height of my experimentation, I was even taking note of the temperature and humidity in my surroundings.
Maybe I went a little overboard on that last one, but all of these considerations helped give each piece its own voice in the balance of the entire record. Maeve’s Lament required a big, round melody on the thin and trebly B string. The ruckus of the lower strings had to splash with enthusiasm as they dealt out a squeaky sixteenth note triplet run. It all came out perfectly. I should also give credit to Rich Isaac, the recording engineer. He balanced the mix of the microphone and direct line and dialed in the equalization and effects.
So, what is Maeve lamenting? The title was inspired by my wife. She overheard me as I was working out the composition in the next room and said that the subject of all that picking was definitely named Maeve. I think Maeve is lamenting the fact that there aren’t more tunes that feature a shuffle rhythm like the one found in her song.
The opening melody is presented as a simple statement that becomes a cyclical cascade. This same cascade is quoted in Maeve’s sister song, On Snow, On Winter. A rolling open string transition in the bases leads to a restatement of the opening theme. A thump of the strings heralds the single note guitar solo made up of sustained and percussive sixteenth notes spelling out the new harmonic component that is there answer to all of Maeve’s woes. This new progression reshapes Maeve’s introductory statement as it is framed against a galloping single note rhythm in the bass. There is a slight respite as the rolling open string figure appears again, this time beefed up with a couple extra triplet sixteenth notes that completely fill any open space that existed in the first presentation. Finally, Maeve’s opening thought, now satisfied, is played while resting against a drone on the low A string.
Platforms will be released this spring. Until then, many of the songs mentioned in this post can be heard on the video page of this website as well as the on the play bar below.