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The new recording, Platforms is finished!  My latest all acoustic, all instrumental album features nine tracks of original music for solo guitar.  The songs balance intricate finger style playing with compact melodies and harmonic passages that explore the full range of the acoustic guitar. 

The songs of the album were arrived at organically.  Some of the rhythms grew from picking an electric guitar in a bar band over the years.  Some of the melodies were inspired by my experiences as a guitar teacher.  Some of the pieces expand on the reflection of a poetic thought or wistful recollection.  Some of the phrases developed out of a love of the technical exploration of the instrument.  Some of the tracks answered a question such as, “What would a song called ‘Hacksaw’ sound like?” 

I tracked the songs at my home studio in three or four sessions over the summer of 2015.  That winter, I took the rough tracks to engineer Rich Isaac’s studio.  We selected the best takes and mixed the final recording.  I allowed for a lot of flexibility in the mixing process and continued to shape the compositional elements even at this phase of the process.  Some takes, for example, were selected based on a particular dynamic or articulation that focused a section of music more clearly than another take that was otherwise just as good. 

The mixing process was spread out over a few brief sessions each month mainly because of scheduling priorities and other interruptions, but after some time, the final mix down was finished in the summer of 2016.  The mastering and final touches to the album artwork followed in the fall. 

This record was a long journey that started as a concept in 2007.  I kept it on the back burner as I developed the ideas that would take the final form of the record.  The bulk of the music was written between 2013 and 2015.  I had a lot of help along the way.  Rich Isaac is a wizard at Pro Tools, and was essential to the final sonic shape that the recording would take.  Photographic artist extraordinaire Dorrett Oosterhoff provided the cover image and shot the photo inside of the album.  My wife, Kirsten, who was, as always, at every turn throughout the process, contributed her boundless energy and enthusiasm to the project as a whole.  She also created all of the graphic design for the album.  Thanks to everyone, including the friends and fans who let me experiment with their ears as I played some of the rough drafts.  Enjoy!

Check it out here:

This Taylor Guitar and Move 

I’m always amazed at the sounds I get from this Taylor guitar when I record it.  I used it for the previous record, On Steel Strings (it is the one I'm holding on the cover).  Hearing the playback of those tracks in the studio caught me by surprise at first.  Was that the same guitar coming through the monitors that was recorded moments earlier?  Rich, the engineer at the session, replied to my disbelief cooly by saying, “That’s what that guitar sounds like.”  The microphones and preamps played a part as well, I’m sure, but you can’t deny the source. This guitar would certainly be on the next record, Platforms

My reaction to the playback was the same for Platforms.  The guitar sings on every song and is very responsive to changes in articulation and picking (I go into a lot more detail about these variables in my previous post, Maeve’s Lament).  The guitar closely mimics a nylon string instrument in Move, the third track on Platforms.   The mids are warm, the basses percussive, and the trebles sound round and full.

I will take as much time as needed to find the right instrument.  I will search for months, or even years for the right guitar in some cases.  I auditioned dozens of guitars before deciding on this particular one.  I sampled guitars from just about every major manufacturer as well as several boutique models with the recording projects I had planned in mind.  After all of this, I narrowed my sites on one of Taylor’s least expensive models, the 114 “Grand Auditorium.”  I was surprised.  The higher end ones I tried were great, but something about this model intrigued me.  I asked the salesman to get every 114 from the stock room and auditioned each.  All were equally as good as the one in the showroom, but the last one we unpackaged had a lively spirit that set it apart from the others.  It was an instrument that needed to be recorded, so I took it home. 

I wanted Platforms to growl a little more than On Steel Strings, so I went for a single mic configuration with a direct line from the guitar mixed in.  I selected a mid-line Blue microphone that I was familiar with from tracking my 2007 release, New Music For Old Truckers.  It has a round depth to it and a shimmer that gives the recording some immediacy without being too delicate. 

Some of the passages in Move are pretty intense.  Chords dance up and down the neck with a moving bass line and detailed inner voices.  It requires a lot of restraint and hand strength to keep all of the parts at the same volume.  The efforts to balance the counterpoint added to the buoyant tones achieved on this track. 

This was the last composition written for the record.  I was in the middle of unpacking boxes in my new residence last year when I decided I needed a break.  I sat down with the guitar and Move came out.

Maeve's Lament 

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.

Call Signs 

Just wrapped the final mixes for the new recording. The audio mastering remains to be done, but I've posted one on the audio player at the bottom of the page. The fast picking aside, Call Signs, is one of the more atmospheric pieces on the record. It is a piece about reaching out to someone you want to talk to. Maybe someone you haven’t seen in a while. Radio operators identify themselves with letters referred to as call signs. They put these out over the airwaves to let you know who is transmitting…sometimes to talk to anyone who is listening…sometimes looking for someone in particular.




The title was the inspiration for this piece.  Hacksaw.  What would a song with that title sound like?  It would have an opening statement consisting of the relentless doubling of the open high E string set up with hammered-on notes by the left hand. The bass would move across the three lowest strings establishing the key of E.  It would have to be E.  There is no finer key for a jagged rhythm on the guitar. 

It would not be clear if the key of E is major or minor, but hearing a D in the bass would pull the ear towards the minor, or at least, a blues tonality.  This key would initially be confirmed as minor, but later move to the major in the third subject.  This same argument would then occur during the statements in the key of A: the second subject would take the position that A is major (while an open string pull-off run tiptoes up the neck with the grace of a funambulist struggling to keep balance), but the key of A would later be established as a minor subdominant chord in the third subject. 

Hacksaw would be relentless: a stream of nearly uninterrupted sixteenth notes spanning over four minutes.  An endurance exercise ranking as one of my most challenging composition to play.  During the three main subjects, the right hand should constantly be flicking out rising arpeggios which are answered by cascading descents back to the root note.  The fretting hand should have it’s work cut out as well: hammer-ons and pull-offs expand arpeggios and melodic elements. 

These sections should then be given some breath during a transitional element against a pedal tone on E.  The flat pick will get to shine while beating out a syncopated bass line.  Chord stabs on the trebles and a harmonized inner voice of sustained notes would appear above this rhythm. 

I settled in to watch some television after a long day spent primarily playing guitar.  My guitar was resting nearby as well.  The Sunday night football game was starting and I was looking forward to seeing the Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.  During the team introduction for this broadcast, Ravens lineman Terrell Suggs gave himself the nickname Hacksaw.  I grabbed my guitar and began to play.  This is what a song called Hacksaw sounds like. 


  The Origin and Meaning of CIRCLES

Circles is one of my latest compositions featured in the 2016 release, Platforms.  I began writing it a little over a hundred years after the music that inspired it was completed.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” was written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon and Charles H. Gabriel.  I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia.  The five verses support the sentiments of the familiar chorus featured in the  Carl Perkins song, “Daddy Sang Bass,”  which later had its popularity furthered as a cover by Johnny Cash.  Ada’s lyrics elaborate on the sadness of losing a family member and the joy of being reunited again just like old times.  Good stuff.  So is the melody.  Through the chorus, the pitches stick to a pentatonic framework that doesn’t stray beyond an octave.  This makes it a great piece to study when learning the guitar, and I often suggest it to those that study the instrument with me.  I came up with an accompaniment for the melody that makes it easier to keep track of the beat over sustained notes.   
This accompaniment features a driving pulse of quarter notes.  It got stuck in my head one day, and I wrote a song around it.  “Will The Circle…” contrasts the differences between an earthbound and heavenly existence.  These two conditions came through in my composition, though it feels completely coincidental now.  There are two main arguments in Circles : first, the driving rhythm based on the arrangement for my students with a very short quote of the melody that appears in the original.  This is set against two chords a semitone apart creating a tight, earthbound intensity.  A brighter section in E Major (the holiest of guitar chords) follows, where the melody responds to the earlier compact pentatonic phrase with big intervals.  The reprise of this section leads to a climb up the fretboard where the melody is transposed to the highest usable register of the guitar.   
I didn’t put this much thought into the piece when I was writing it, but the original song and it’s meaning was on my mind.  I kept the meaning in the title as well: Circles.   
                                                                Composing is like life: Sometimes you’re  
                                                           free to do what you want, sometimes you’re not. 
When I write music, it’s fun to let the notes tell you what should come next.  In my own way, that is me doing what I want.  Build on what you have already done and the composition will make sense.  I decide which elements are important to explore and let the possibilities of what I’ve already written as well as the instrument I’m writing for enter into the creative process as much as I am willing to let them.  On the other hand, there are times when I like to write from an idea.  I stress the word idea, not script.  Never a script.  I don’t want the orchestra to tell me that at this moment, the hero is in doubt and there was just a crash of lightning.  An idea or concept, though, can shape what you are writing.  It tells you what to do.  Compositions are strengthened by the focus on the extra-musical inspiration.   
That’s what happened with Circles.  The concept of the original drove my subconscious while I fleshed out an inspired rhythm.  


The next recording:  Platforms

My last record, On Steel Strings A Tribute To ABBA, was a lot of fun to record and promote.  I’ve met a lot of great people throughout the entire process that I may not have otherwise.  It was also through this record that I came to truly appreciate what it is to have an international audience.  On Steel Strings was my first tribute album, which can be an exciting prospect when you consider that each note of the performance will be heard against the backdrop of the original as well as for its own sake.  I was always glad to hear from fans of the super group’s music that enjoyed my interpretations of the iconic songs. 
Long before I released the ABBA tribute CD, ideas began to pile up for the next effort.  It always happens that way.  This can be a distraction from the current project, especially when the time comes to promote it, but it’s nice to have something to get going on right away once the last one is done.  The next record is called Platforms.  I had this title and a concept for the music in mind since late 2006.  The focus has changed a little since then, but the title remained.   
Platforms is a collection of instrumental songs for acoustic guitar performed using a technique called hybrid picking.  This combines the use of a plectrum, or pick, and a finger style approach with the remaining fingers.  Typically, guitarists use one style or the other, but certain styles and stylists are distinguished by this type of playing. It is often found in jazz and country music, and less so in rock or blues.  Using a pick exclusively has the benefit of fast single note attacks and sustained rhythmic strumming.  Finger style technique allows for more counterpoint, or multiple simultaneous independent melodies and rhythms.  You get the best of both worlds when they are combined in the hybrid approach.  The songs for Platforms were written not only to exploit the elements of this style, but also were shaped by the possibilities that it presented.    
The above photo is the mixing desk operated by the esteemed recording engineer Rich Isaac.  His talents made On Steel Strings sound incredible.  I have very often asked him to do the impossible with my recordings only to later request that he change it back or try something else.  He still agrees to work with me!   
I have also selected a photo for the album art that was taken by the brilliant photographer Dorret Oosterhoff.  She handled the task of making my mug presentable for the last release. 
As the release date for Platforms nears, I’ll be letting everyone know where it’s available, though initially, it will be sold exclusively here through the website. I will also be releasing the sheet music for some of the songs for guitarists who want to play along. 
The sheet music for these selected songs will be available to anyone who wants to learn to play them… 
Once the recordings have been mixed and mastered, I will put these sheet music scores along with the audio on YouTube and link to them through my website’s VIDEO tab.   
A bound manuscript of the sheet music for all the music in Platforms will also be available through the website in addition to the audio recording.  
Song selection is an important part of the recording process.  Artists typically record several songs that don’t get released just as actors perform in scenes that don’t always make the final cut of a movie.  For musicians, it’s nice to have an abundance of material in the formative stages of a recording even after you have committed to the studio timeline.  For Platforms, I composed fourteen songs and it looks like the final record will contain 8 or 9 tracks. 
These two will make the cut: 
Momentum.  This piece has become a staple at my live performances due to its rhythmic drive and catchy syncopation.  The technical aspects don’t overwhelm the intriguing 3 note melody that is the center of the action and phrases are punctuated with chord stabs that add contrast to the galloping bass rhythm.   
On Snow, On Winter.  A song about the possibilities of a new beginning.  This song could easily be performed using the finger style technique, but the attack of the pick on the basses adds some urgency to the melody on the high string while both are punctuated by the inner voices.  The “waterfall” lick at the beginning is a nice flavor for solo acoustic music.  I’m glad it found a home here. 
…you can currently watch a video recording of these two songs at this website under the VIDEO tab. 
…I will add more song details in the weeks leading up to the release.