Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Bring an Open Mind to a Broken Heart

Salon de la Guerre’s 25th album, Bring An Open Mind to a Broken Heart, is now available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms where music is still sold.

The project started as an experiment–to see if I could use country music instruments to play microtonal music. In other words, I wanted to meld Gram Parsons and Harry Partch. I even bought a lap steel guitar to try out my hypothesis that something new and wonderful might result.

As I progressed, I learned a couple of things: One, instruments associated with country music such as the banjo and lap steel guitar can hurt your ears if sampled and played in rapid succession. And then I was reminded of a golden rule of music, which is that you shouldn’t let a bunch of fuzzy sound effects get in the way of a good song.

The result is an album of arty country experiments sitting jeek by chowl with a number of more conventional country numbers and lap steel performances. It’s not exactly what I’d intended, but I still think a lot of it came out sounding fresh and new. I hope you agree.

As always, the album was composed, produced, arranged and performed by yours truly. That’s me playing the lap steel guitar, banjo, acoustic guitar and keyboard, while Apple GarageBand’s software provides string, bass and drum backup.

The cover art work was created by my longtime friend Corey B. Sanders.

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My 24th album, Hot Tears, is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube and other platforms where music is (still) sold.

This is my first and so far only album dedicated to jazz. Most of the eight songs are cool and modal jazz in the Miles Davis-John Coltrane vein, though I’ve added a couple of ringers: a Louis Armstrong takeoff that was meant to accompany my short film Scrabble Rousers, and a fusion rock piece that owes more to Frank Zappa.

My reasons for doing jazz might seem obvious: I’ve played alto sax since I was 12, and I love postwar American jazz in particular. But there’s a sillier reason: I needed a jazz song for my film, and I don’t like leaving single stray songs lying around unattached to albums. So I wrote seven more to make “Scrabble Rousers” less lonely, less likely to fall through the cracks.

In the age of streaming, I understand that, sadly, the format of full-length albums is dying. And yet those are the formats I love. I love sequencing groups of songs, seeing if their different moods take you on a journey. While I wouldn’t call the Beatles’ White Album my all-time favorite, it’s one of the albums I’m most obsessed with, because I don’t know how you make a long work like that with such a chaotically wide variety of styles and yet still somehow make the whole thing seem cohesive. So assembling albums–trying to yank the listener through as many wide-ranging emotions as possible without losing them to alienation or befuddlement–is a hobby I enjoy almost as much as making the music.

Having devoted myself to an entire jazz album this way, for the dumbest of reasons I concede, I was also curious to see how well my saxophone playing has held up. Although I played it in high school, I put it down for almost 30 years while I pursued a love of rock music and its main sonic vehicle: the guitar. But I picked up the sax again for a couple of songs on my 2015 album Clam Fake, mostly to see how the instrument would sound when sandwiched next to alternative guitar tunings, since guitars tuned Sonic Youth-style tend to sound like horns as well. I figured something interesting would happen.

But now that I’ve tried a whole album of improvising on this, my first instrument, I must say I’m pretty proud of the results. Aside from one tweak of two bad notes and some edits on “Scrabble Rousers” and “A Picture of Lori Looking at the Sky,” the sax solos you hear on Hot Tears (not counting the introductory melodies*) were not heavily chopped up.

I don’t know if I’ll do another jazz album soon (yesterday, I sent the saxophone back to the company that rented it to me, so right now I am sax-less). But after you’ve heard me churn through a few more styles and experiments (I’ve got a country rock coming out next week), maybe I’ll try this again someday.

As always, I composed, arranged, performed and produced the album by myself. I hope you enjoy.

*I should have added for clarity and full disclosure that the opening sax melodies on “Glitching” and “A Picture of Lori Looking at the Sky” were put together from fragments of saxophone runs for the sake of recording speed and simplicity, though only the middle solo on the latter song was edited together from two different improvised takes. I also forgot that I had to piece together the solo on “Scrabble Rousers” from two or three takes, something I should have mentioned in the first draft of this blog post. My apologies.

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Within the next month or so, Salon de la Guerre will be releasing two new albums. One is best described as an “art country” album. More on that later. The other is my first album dedicated to jazz and it’s mostly in the Miles Davis-John Coltrane mood, though there are a couple of curveball songs.

Why did I do this? Why do I keep straying from the garage rock that is Salon de la Guerre’s main order of business? Well, there are a few reasons. One is that playing around in different genres helps me innovate and come up with new ideas. Next, I had built up a collection of melodies that didn’t really fit into pop or punk or rock songs very well. After enough of them piled up, I decided to do the right thing with them.

Then there were a few mundane, practical reasons. As regular readers know, I’ve made a few short films; for years, I have had to hide one of my student works from 2006 because I had put a popular Louis Armstrong song on the soundtrack. It was going to be a huge burden to pay for the rights to this song every year, and so I tried to think of a way I could capture the spirit of the piece and make my own jazz song to save the film, “Scrabble Rousers,” from oblivion. I took a huge risk and tried to score it using my own saxophone playing (something I’ve done only a little of since high school). Once I had the sax in my hands, I thought I might as well go all in and record an entire jazz album.

Sorry for the long-winded explanation. The upshot is that I’m fairly proud of the result, which is called Hot Tears.

Attached is a song from the album, which is almost completed.

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A cruel loss for music. RIP Eddie Van Halen. Though no one likes to admit it, stunt guitarists are a dime a dozen. A lot of them can play fast. A lot of them can play different styles. Given all his flash, you might be forgiven for not noticing that Van Halen was, like all great musicians, imaginative, innovative, witty, melodic and even—wait for it!—tasteful. He knew how to use noise and silence, distortion and clarity. He understood the dynamics of a song and knew that the mood and color were ultimately more important than the showboating. And in that way he was able to create his own aesthetic universe and expand upon it. It’s obnoxious to just call it metal (full disclosure, heavy metal is not my favorite genre). One of my favorite Van Halen songs, probably more for the attitude than anything else, was “Finish What Ya Started.” Why? Because it starts life as something that could be mistaken for k.d. lang song, gets VH fans tarted up for the hot signature Eddie solo, and then … bang! He wreathes them in country guitar licks. It was as if he were saying “Think I can’t play roots music? Watch me play roots music, assholes!” I always found the song hysterically funny. We’re sorry you’ve left us Eddie, but eternally grateful for what you’ve left behind.

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Golem Vs. DuendeThe 23rd album by Salon de la Guerre is now available in the racks of the virtual music stores of the world.

Golem Vs. Duende is my attempt to make a collage of music from environmental sounds. It’s also my attempt to show my appreciation for the microtonal music of Harry Partch while acknowledging that his music was precisely notated, and mine is not. In fact, my samples of found sounds–from my house, from wooden fences, from the New York City subway–are spontaneously created and probably more resemble the minimalism of John Cage, whom Partch hated. They were, after all, pursuing two completely different approaches. Who wants to be lumped together with their aesthetic enemies?

Also, I have not abandoned the 12-tone chromatic scale in my music, and I’d shudder to think of what Partch himself might make of me citing him as an influence. He’d probably call me a hapless poseur and beat me senseless with one of his homemade instruments.

So this new work is modernist classical–and it’s not. I hope it’s challenging but also fun. I hope it has depth but is not boring. I hope it informs the rock and pop and country albums I plan to keep making in the future. While I wish Salon de la Guerre had more listeners (and think a lot of you who aren’t hearing my more radio-friendly songs are missing out), I’m also happy to have the kind of obscurity that allows me to do whatever the hell I want with music for the time being. Because the weird stuff helps me make breakthroughs with the rocking stuff. I am currently on the same page with my small group of listeners in at least one respect: We have no expectations.

You can find Golem Vs. Duende on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube and Bandcamp. Here’s a sample:

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Infinity BoyThis week I hit a couple of milestones. I’ve reached one of those fun ages with a gawping new zero in it. And I’ve also released my 22nd album, containing my third symphony.

It’s called Infinity Boy. Like my other two faux-symphonic efforts Gravitas: A Life and The Widowhood of Bunny, it’s an electronic work with pretenses toward being a string orchestra piece or string quartet. It’s also the only way I can musically express my love of Prokofiev given my current limitations: I can’t play violin or write musical notation for it. I hope time is not running out for me to cure those shortcomings in the future (note my other milestone), but it’s not likely I will. I don’t usually stand up for philistinism, but I did indeed try transcribing one of my pop songs once, and it took almost two hours to get through the first verse. Considering that I’ve put out more than 16 hours of music arranged for multiple instruments, you might forgive me for not pursuing a huge musical notation project in the immediate future. I gather some people think you’re not a real composer unless you can write it down. I appreciate those who can, but no, it’s not more important than the act of simply making art by any means necessary.

Infinity Boy came about mostly because I was frustrated in my attempts to create a jazz album (who do you have to blow to rent a saxophone in this town nowadays?) With extra nervous energy and time on the train, I start putting out my classical appreciation albums. Anyway, I hope you like it, and if not, maybe just give it a listen as a way of saying happy birthday to me. As my grandparents might say, I sure am getting tall.

As usual, the piece was written, arranged, produced and performed by yours truly in Apple’s GarageBand for iPhone. The work was completed between August and November 2019 in my home studio. All performances are on keyboard.

A sample:

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From Sour To CinnamonMy 21st album, From Sour to Cinnamon, is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, CD Baby, and other places where music is (still) sold. As I’ve written previously, it’s an album of pop songs with some dark undertones.

The album art was provided by my 8-year-old son Xander.

While the last Salon de la Guerre album displayed my recent obsession with country music, this album is all pop, and most of it was generated with keyboards in Garage Band (though I play guitar on the  the song “A Kid’s Inside,” an ode to youth and play and silliness and joy).

Again, all songs written, performed and produced by yours truly.

Enjoy one of the latest tracks here:

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Tangled in the sun, the bird he flew
Came back, didn’t say what he knew
Came back with a song he knew only as a scream
Came back in a life he knew only as a dream

Wax in my ears, the siren quakes the sea
I don’t know what the sirens sing to me
Basaltic rock you wake dead or as a king
When you hear the sirens sing
Stuffed my ears with the wax from the bees
I don’t know what the Sirens sing

I ate a bird, something that flew
I wondered if it he knew he was through
I fly when I dream and that means I fly
People think they can’t, I don’t know why
Tangled in the sun the bird he flew
Came back didn’t say what he knew

Wax in my ears the siren quakes the sea
I don’t know what the sirens sang to me
Basaltic rock you wake dead or as a king
When you hear the sirens sing
Stuffed out ears with the wax from the bees
I don’t know what the Sirens sang to me

(Lyrics to the song “The Sirens,” now available on the Salon de la Guerre album From Sour To Cinnamon, copyright 2019.)

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We bounce on the Siberian ground
The snow absorbs the laughing sound
Your breath has shards and your voice is weak
And when the soil breaks, its gas will speak

Of the sometimes lips of Siberian birds
On their grocery rounds, speak in minor thirds
They too act with a unitasking brain
The gas on which they float is sane

Find its idiom in childish lungs
Stentorian notes and Götterdämmerung
Mingles and cocktails with poisons in the air
And the masses of people who once lived there

Gas gives its spirit, its spirit released
Its valediction, the ocean its priest
And when its moment of flower has ceased
The human hole seeks to close in peace

Find its idiom in childish lungs
Stentorian notes and Götterdämmerung
Mingles and cocktails with poisons in the air
And masses of people who once lived there

And it got too hot for us to live there
But our letters remain, its past we share
The flowers open, the flowers stare.

(Lyrics to “Methane Moth,” from the new Salon de la Guerre album From Sour to Cinnamon.)

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