Saturday, June 2, 2018

Nothing Left To Lose, Part One

I finally went ahead and did it. It felt like time. My new contract with Rehegoo Music seemed to be the needed catalyst to finally bring it into the world. Nothing Left To Lose is an album I've talked about making since I started self-publishing music. The decision to finally take the big step of making my art available for public scrutiny was because, well, I had nothing left to lose. I was at the ultimate low-point of my life: recovering from an extended hospital stay that left me largely immobile, I kept my mind occupied by composing music, beginning with an app for my phone. That first EP was my Progress Report to the world of my recovery, and I decided it would be the first step toward an album called Nothing Left To Lose - also a reference to the Janis Joplin song "Me and Bobby McGee."

It never seemed the right time, the right special occasion, to finally assemble and publish the album, though I test-ran compilations of different names on myself and Patreon patrons over the years. They were all, invariable, "best of" compilations, up to that point in time. It seemed that I was just waiting for something. I've often said, when promoting the demo that's been a Patreon reward for quite a while now, that I was hoping Nothing Left To Lose would be my first album distributed on physical mediums - CDs and/or vinyl. To do that, I'd need to raise a lot of money independently, and if there's one thing I've learned is that I needed help. Artists such as Amanda Palmer, who have already made quite a name for themselves, will advise that getting into bed with a label is one of the worst things an artist can do. That can be perfectly valid counsel, so I've been skeptical and careful, and what I've found in Rehegoo Music is a label that will allow me to do exactly what I'm doing, the way I want, with a voice in how they handle whatever I pass on to them, on a non-exclusive basis. Really, it's an experiment for me - clearly, this is something I've never done before. But I think I've found the best possible entity, and way, to give this whole label thing a try. And I'm going for the full experience.

And how outstanding an ego boost is it that they scouted me out and approached me? Total bragging rights reserved there. Hopefully it doesn't bite me in the ass.

I've been letting Rehegoo take the lead on this one and treading carefully to try not to breach the contract, so I've let them publish this one first. As such, it's already available at Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon, Napster, and TIDAL.

A little about how I chose the songs and why: Track 01 was really a toss up between "Introducing... (Alternate III)" and "Jade's Theme (Introduction)," but I decided that "Alternate III" was more representative of the song's original intention, and "Introduction" was better suited on The Instrumentality Project, which it had been written for. "Alternate III" was actually written with Nothing Left To Lose in mind, while Jaded Winters was an excuse to make it public. Besides, I kind of like "Alternate III" better. Now I already have an idea for another version, that would be a cross between the two - well, I guess a simplified version of "Introduction." But that's for another time, and not until I have an excuse to publish it.

"Fervens" is just one of my favorites. It doesn't seem to have ever been really popular, but I consider it to be one of my best works. Originally inspired by Thom Yorke, it took the principle of "Simplify," that simplicity can create beautiful songs, and I wandered over it with some meandering acoustic guitar until it really took on life and built in intensity. Because it was a slow build, I took the latin for "simmer" or "to boil" for the be a little pretentious, if I'm honest. I don't actually know latin. The Internet helped with that one.

"Simplify" was a hit, relatively. It was my most popular song at Soundcloud for quite a while, and it was also in regular rotation on a few radio stations. I believe it still is. It was an exercise in letting go of the mindset that the more complex a tune is, the better, and it was a lesson that simplicity can create beautiful art.

"Darkest Dreams" is the instrumental of "Sublime Like Swine," published because I couldn't decide if I liked it better with or without vocals. I decided that they both have their merits as separate entities, therefore deserved separate titles. The instrumental happens to be more popular, which is why it was chosen for Nothing Left To Lose. This is my "nu-metal" song, inspired by Placebo's "Post Blue" and sounding a bit as if it's from the Korn era of hard rock. It proved to be a bit of a hit, also earning airplay.

Another "hit", and one of my first to be put into regular radio rotation, "Slowly Scooting Closer" was a success that I henceforth tried to replicate, and ended up informing my songwriting thereafter. My music took on a more "darkwave" identity for quite a while. With Dialectical Observations, I've drifted away from that sound, but I proved with Neoclassism that I haven't shaken it off, and I probably never will completely. Therefore, it's one of the most representative songs of my music.

"Safe in Cars" is another personal favorite that has never been very popular, except, oddly, with classical music lovers on Google Plus. This was my "driving song," not just fun to drive to, but also a reminder that you can become too relaxed in your speedy metal boxes, with the occasional metallic burst to remind you to "Wake the fuck up!" and remain alert, because your safety is an illusion. Either you or someone else can cause an accident at any time; though, if anything, the road system is odd proof at how well-organized human beings can be when they agree on common sets of rules.

"Passage Through the Veil" was an attempt to replicate my once-upon-a-time "magnum opus" "The Cloud Walkers," trying for another post-industrial neoclassical-ish epic. I wasn't sure I'd succeeded, but it's subsequent popularity, especially after being highlighted in the Starlight Music Chronicles Artist of the Month competition, indicates that I have. It's been the most popular song at my YouTube channel, as well as on other streaming platforms at one point in time or another. This is my "wormhole" song, trying to capture the sense of falling down the rabbit hole, or lifting the veil between one reality and another, a sort of graceful vertigo, if that makes any kind of sense.

"The Last Waltz" is the most popular version of a quite popular song, "Giger's Lullaby," which now numbers eleven different versions, most known as "Waltz with Lilith" or "Waltz for Giger." As the most popular version, it was the logical choice for Nothing Left To Lose. "Last" was also one of my first to be accepted into radio rotation, on Darkwave Radio, another song wrapping me up in a much-explored gothic identity. The "Waltz"s were inspired by the biomechanical nightmares of surrealist H.R. Giger, whose one of my favorite artists of all time. I love any movie featuring his xenomorph, and the psychosexual evocations of his work are deliciously unsettling. To make a "lullaby" to wrap oneself in images that I've grown to find oddly comforting was the goal. Okay, it ended up kind of cheesy, but I think it's fun and delightfully gothic. And this is a version that hopefully inspires some kinetic energy, being a sort of post-industrial trip-hop remix.

"Winter's Salve" is my signature piano ballad, one of my earliest compositions, and a song that I continue to revisit. I decided to try my hand at writing something with a more classical style, which was also a test to see how much of my five years of piano lessons, from twenty years ago, had stuck. It began as "Winter's Discontent," as I went into my first winter of recovery from my hospitalization, anticipating a very dark period of my life. Instead, my attempts at solo composition kept me productive and buoyed my spirits. It became "Winter's Salve," and this is one of the newest versions, despite it having no subtitle to indicate as much. The original "Winter's Salve" was only ever a bonus track on a limited edition, and I'm kind of glad it's such a rarity, because it's grown to be much more solid over the past three years. I've decided to pretend this is the original. Like "Introducing (Alternate III)," it's a newer version than the prior-to-Dialectical Observations time period of the rest of Nothing Left To Lose, but I made an exception because it's derived from an old song.

And "Revolutions" has, like "Simplify," reigned as my most popular song on Soundcloud and other streaming platforms. Probably my most danceable tune, it was a test-run of an "intuitive" AI drummer that came with an upgrade of my composing program. Well, the drummer wasn't intuitive enough, though it did have some beats that would take me hours to program in note-by-note, so I took what it came up with and sliced and spliced it so that the emphases and swells were in the right places, also layering it over other drum tracks, as I went along.

So that wraps up Part One. Like I said, I've been letting Rehegoo take the lead on this one, so no word yet on when Part Two will arrive. I've just sent them an email nagging them about it, though. It took a few weeks after they received the tracks for this one to get published, so that may be the norm, though I sent the tracks for Part Two at the same time. Maybe they just feel that spacing them apart more is a better marketing strategy? I have no idea what goes on in their collective brains. They have multiple departments needing to communicate with each other, and I am by no means their only artist. However, "The Seventh Swan" is on Part Two, and has already appeared on one of their compilations. So I'm hoping Part Two is still a thing... Even if it isn't, I'll be going ahead and publishing it at my own store.

Here's to the future of Nothing Left To Lose! Until then, may your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Monday, May 21, 2018

With Love, Catatonia

It's been two months between posts, something I'd really like to not let happen. I wanted to do a review for the new Shakey Graves album, Can't Wake Up, when it was released - I even listened to it several times in a row (not that that was much of a chore) in preparation - but I never seemed to have the time or energy. I've been having problems with being low-energy lately, but I've also been really focused on the new EP. Really, I wrote five songs in two months, and each is one that I've been really proud of and excited to share with people. The third month, I gave myself time to tweak it, experiment with it, and edit it. With Dialectical Observations, and since then, I've come to the realization that I can put a really quality product out there if I give myself around that amount of time to play around. And after listening to With Love, Catatonia obsessively before its release, I've come to the conclusion that there's absolutely nothing I want to change now. Maybe by the time of my next full-length album... I'd rather not say "never," and who knows what the next album will bring. Anyway, I've decided that a full-length album with the best-fitting material from Neoclassism and With Love, Catatonia is next. So far, it's shaping up to have a similar feel to Dialectical Observations, but I'd rather not go into it with a goal in mind for its sound. Such as with Neoclassism, I'd like to let the songs decide for themselves.

Speaking of Neoclassism - isn't it odd that it's follow-up would have a more "neoclassical" sound? After Dialectical, I thought I'd be continuing down a more ambient/neoclassical path, but no, Neoclassism decided it would be in a more post-industrial vein, sounding similar to my fourth album, Revolutions. Then With Love, Catatonia seemed to pick up where Dialectical left off, with something more ambient-pop and focused on string arrangements. Okay, the strings thing isn't evident in the first song, "Cataphany," which is more straightforward trip-hop, guided by a repeated succession of piano notes. Putting in cello was more of an afterthought, though it started with the bowed bass. I really wanted a deep bass sound, and I succeeded with something that throbs, and has some interesting riffs. And the beats...I love the beats. I think I pulled off something wonderfully "post-industrial pop." It puts me in an optimistic mood with an easy-to-get-into groove.

I'd been reading Gregory Maguire's After Alice (which is kind of flat for a Gregory Maguire book, by the way) and it wraps up with the musings of a fictionalized Charles Darwin:

"I was musing on the notion of cataphany...from the Greek 'cata,' meaning down, and 'phantazein,' to make visible. Also the root of 'fantasy,' don't you know.  'Cataphany': an insight, a revelation of underness... Let me put it more scientifically. If separate species develop skills that help them survive, and if those attributes are favored which best benefit the individual and its native population, to what possible end might we supposed has arisen...that particular capacity of the human being known as the imagination?"

This little speech resonated with me more than the rest of the book did, and you may have noticed that I have a thing for made-up words. I jotted down the word and decided it had to be the title of a song. And so, the music itself, when coupled with the title, means to me the optimism that can be achieved through imagination. It was a sort of revelation in itself, musically achieved. I was really eager to share this song, but I exercised restraint. In fact, I held off on sharing so much as a preview of any of these songs, except for "Puzzlebox" to Patreon patrons, which was actually the first song written for this EP. By virtue of its experimentalism, it seemed more fitting for a finale than an opener. I used "Cataphany" to try and set a tone for the overall EP instead.

The optimism continues in "Revel," which has the fastest pace, and continues a bit with the throbbing bass, in portions of the song, at least. This song was composed on guitar rather than piano, something I've never really done before; it eschews piano entirely, making it a rarity. Actually, it began with the opening strings, which were in part inspired by Dialectical Observations' "Less Sinister Cousins." They were intended to set an epic tone, but instead became relegated to the background by additional strings and guitar, and mostly the beats. Oh, the beats. Trying something different - instead of layering drum machines and kits, I switch between three. This creates different "styles." "Hip-Hop," "House," and "Classic." In a 3/4 time signature rather than a 4/4, it creates an off-kilter feel to each. But somehow it's continually danceable, with each flowing effortlessly into the other, rather than creating a dissonance. These, and the cello, are at the core of "Revel," raveling it together into a cohesive whole. And it's the beats that provided the song name. It reminded me of the "hip-hop" beats uncharacteristically used in the faerie revels taking place in an after-hours mall foodcourt in the book Widdershins, by Charles de Lint - you may have noticed that de Lint influences me quite a bit. Anyway, with the juxtaposition of the beats, flute, and string quartet, I thought this might be used in a revel at an urban faerie court.

I electronically transitioned (though this song was written prior) into piano overtaken by more strings in "Power Time Gravity Love." It began with a cello melody composed over piano arpeggios, then I removed the piano when it felt jarring next to the flowing of the cello and viola. I tried without really succeeding to mimic the feel of the beats used in "Cataphany." The light pulsing tapped out doesn't quite tonally match, and more incongruous industrial clanging and hissing is used for a more epic effect. There's a lot of industrial and electronic elements here, but I faded them into the background. In the end, this song is about the flowing grace of a streaming cello melody that is then reexamined every which way. The initial piano chords are echoed by acoustic guitar for a lighter tone. I was head-over-heels about that cello melody, and had a lot of fun trying it a few different ways, and then on different strings. At last, to wrap it up, it seemed fitting to pluck the melody at its essence on an echoing electric guitar. 

The title for this song comes from the musing of a character in the novel Cloud Atlas (I love both the book and the movie) that the most influential forces in our lives are invisible. This seemed nothing short of a revelation to me, and I had to jot it down. Don't ask me why I attached it to this song. These things often decide for themselves and seem to be out of my hands.

"Misplaced Romanticism" is the oldest song on the EP. It was considered for Neoclassism, in fact, but it never felt quite right, and instead became a bonus track on the Patreon-exclusive Artist's Edition. It's gone through a few iterations since, with my tinkering trying to perfect it, and never quite succeeding. I became a bit obsessed with trying to get it right, and get it onto With Love, Catatonia. The piano never changed - that's where its essence lies, especially in that opening, tinkling melody. Some of the strings seemed solid enough to be set in stone. It was mostly the cello that felt wrong. It kept causing a bit of discord, and I couldn't isolate what it was. I copied song files and tried different things with it so many times that I've lost track. I'd seem to have it...and still, it would sound wrong. I think sometimes I overcomplicated it. In the end, this might be the closest to the original I've recorded in a long time, with just two-or-three notes changed. This is different from the Neoclassism version. I feel, after listening to it several times, that this is the right version. Maybe I'm just sick of changing it, but I'm pretty sure I finally got it. It sounds pretty solid to me. This was the second-to-last song finished (I tried some experiments with "Power Time Gravity Love" up to the last couple of days) and the first written. Some songs just take longer than others. I think the quickest to be written was actually "Puzzlebox."

For as complicated as "Puzzlebox" is, it's amazing how quickly it came out, and that it never changed. Initially, I just wanted to sustain a strings chord, with a staccato burst at the end. Who knew where it would go wrong there? Then I started tapping a synth along with it, but realized they were in different time signatures. And the following piano was in yet a third time signature. Could I really synchronize all three in an interlocking, harmonizing structure? Well, the first step would be to not write anything overly complex. The concept of the song was complex enough. Deep breath...let's keep things simple, but compelling. Now the beats were compelling, and I think by themselves could hold a listener's attention. There's no real melody here. Everything is just pieces fitting together, sometimes in absentia, but mostly adding one layer on top of another. Each layer was fun for me to work with, and I was mesmerized by how, after 64 (I think) bars, it all came back together. I wanted to do this twice, and keep things interesting, so a couple of odd synths and a two-note flute came into play. Then, after 128 bars (again, I'm recollecting from a few months ago) it all came together again, and I closed it with a single chord, which added an acoustic guitar that had been nowhere else in the song. Afterward, I kept describing this as a "puzzle box" of a song, though it's original name was "Bells for Him," in a nod to Tori Amos. Then, I shrugged and thought, if I'm going to describe it this way, why not just name it "Puzzlebox"?

This is a relatively "minimalist" album, in that most of the songs don't contain the sixteen-or-more layers of instrumentation that I normally use. It felt a little more graceful and less cacophonous that way. There's nothing truly epic here, more relaxing and at times even light-hearted, than anything else. That's why I've come to describe it as "a gentle start to your morning, a soothing lullaby, or a deep breath in between." After the relentless pace of Neoclassism, I seem to have explored the complete opposite end of my post-industrial spectrum.

With Love, Catatonia is available on (links will be highlighted as they become available) Spotify, YouTube, Google Play, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, TIDAL, Napster, and something called iHeartRadio that I've never heard of before. Oh well, it's nice to be on new things! Oh, and I haven't even begun to tell you about the label I've signed on with, or my desperate need for Patreon patrons (I'm at zero right now) and the (I think) soon availability of Nothing Left To Lose through Rehegoo Music! Well, more on that later, probably when Nothing Left To Lose is actually released.

Until then, may your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An Arcane Design:

The Arcane Insignia, and its Debut Album, A Flawed Design

I'll start off by saying, I've been waiting for this album since 2015. I first became acquainted with The Arcane Insignia's frontman/composer/guitarist/vocalist on Twitter, of all places. We found a mutual appreciation for each other's music - he called "Slowly Scooting Closer" a "beast" of a song, and I fell in love with an EP (more of a demo) from 2013, which contained five songs: "Car(di)nail & (Sub)liminal," "Chapter 9: Trail of Extinguished Suns," "Panopticon," "The Violence Within," and "Vicarious Virtues." These songs had me chomping at the bit, eager for more; I was repeatedly told, "It's coming soon," referring to a full-length album that I anticipated would be heavenly.

The result, released March 16th, 2018, was more of a single composition than an album: it's arrangements of acoustic seven-string guitar, strings, and acoustic percussion are equally neoclassical and progressive rock, with the vocals more of an accompanying instrument, the lyrics a prose of  metaphorical and spiritual poetry. The guitar is often used for percussive riffs, as often at it's plucked melodiously, with even a little metal-inspired flavor.

"Kingdom of Wolves" starts off the album as a lengthy prelude to seven additional "chapters" (that's the best description I can come up with) and after three listens, I already know I need a booklet of lyrics (incidentally, you can find the lyrics for each song at the band's Bandcamp page), to read along with the music. It's easier to hear the vocals as an additional instrument, and the lyrics are seldom repeating or rhyming, making the possibility of memorizing seem an intimidating feat. But that's part of their appeal: this is thoughtful stream-of-consciousness prose rather than your standard fair, adding to the sense that this is a musical epic. The lyrics are more of a companion to Alejandro's voice, guitar, and percussion; Noah Heau's cello; and Tina Chang-Chien's viola and backup vocals.

"Architect of a Flawed Design" continues the story, with a light neoclassical intro segueing into more percussive guitar and violently sawed strings. Metaphors of questions and statements is highlighted - unexpectedly and thrillingly - by a choir contributed to by Martha Stella Calle (Alejandro's mother, and a tremendous source of strength and support in his life), Allie Jessing, and Jamel Lee.

It is stated that "Chapter 9: Trail of Extinguished Suns" is the "song that started it all." It was one of the first songs that I became acquainted with, almost immediately finding tits way into two playlists in my iTunes: "Acoustic/Electric/Eclectic" and "Another Soundtrack for Another Life." And that's what it became: essential to the soundtrack of my life. Rereleased as an advance single for the album, I was excited to experience a new version that didn't disappoint. The vocals became overlapping and harmonizing, including backing accompaniment. It was a new experience with which I felt extremely satisfied, and increased my anticipation of the album, which I was again reassured was "coming soon" - I was hesitant, but so wanted to believe.

Another song, "Car(di)nal (Sub)liminal," was also appropriately used an advanced single, and again it was one with which I was already familiar, equally as important in my life as "Trail of Extinguished Suns." It offered up new delights, again in the form of overlapping and harmonizing vocals. New strings arrangements gave the song a more orchestral feel, yet it stands on its own as a progressive rock tune.

"Obelisk Pt 1: Fallen Shell" is the melancholy prelude to an epic of self-discovery, part one being what I interpret as a tale of a changed man who does not recognize his transformation as necessarily a good thing. However, part two, "Liquid Skies," changes perspective of this transformation, with adversity recognized as an ally to self-discovery; of the changed man being a step in the journey toward a being perfect in his imperfections, the metaphorical "obelisk." It speaks of a very Buddhist view of the self, which is a form of spirituality that Alejandro has embraced. A comparison of this song that comes to mind is Tool's two-part epic "Wings for Marie," though whereas "Wings" is more psychedelic ambient rock, this is more neoclassical progressive rock. Still, I think "Obelisk" is a kindred spirit.

Lastly (before a hidden bonus track you have to download the album to hear) is "Gemini Cycle," a song graceful is its entirety, guitar and strings playing off each other in classical fashion until the vocals join the fray,. Alejandro is yet again joined by Martha Stella Calle, Allie Jessing, and Jamel Lee, in elevating choral arrangements.  The song's instrumental interludes are many and welcome, bringing it beyond the level of typical progressive rock.  I have to say that every song aside from "Trail of Extinguished Suns" and "Car(di)nal (Sub)liminal" have a certain novelty for me for being new, and I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite, but this song's neoclassical grace, combined with the sublime choir, strikes a chord within me: my favorite qualities of eccentric rock are finally in a single song!

I had to confess to Alejandro that I was disappointed in the absence of "Vicarious Virtues," one of my favorite songs; but I was promised that it would be on the sophomore album, which I'm already eagerly anticipating. Hopefully I won't have to wait for three years this time, but if I do, it will undoubtedly be worth it. I know from past experience that The Arcane Insignia's composer won't do things half-assed, especially where his art is concerned. I think that all his fans will agree with me that we appreciate it, and that we've been rewarded for our patience and support.

A Flawed Instrumental

Okay, I was going to go with this as a post-script, but upon listening to it, it's clear it deserves a whole lot more.

Available at the band's Bandcamp page is an instrumental version of A Flawed Design, which I was hesitant about - I couldn't imagine the album working without the instrument of Alejandro Saldarriaga Calle's vocals and his metaphorical and spiritual prose - but I had to try it out. From the beginning of "Kingdom of Wolves" onward, I was blown away, all over again.

I'll start by noting that "Kingdom of Wolves" - a seventeen-minute epic - is now broken down to five parts. The con palabras (with words) version is a little intimidating, as you have to commit yourself to hearing it as a whole, or why bother? I personally find it impossible to pause or skip once it's begun. It's a terrific opening track, but as a five-part instrumental epic, it gives you options. I still have to see it through, as well as it works as a neoclassical instrumental. And there's no other label for it. "Neoclassical" is definitely the way to go. It easily compares to the works of Lorenzo Masotto, my favorite composer of this genre. But differing from many neoclassical compositions, which often have electronic components, this is boldly acoustic.

The guitar, either melodically plucked or rapidly strummed, is usually the source of rhythm here, though staccato bursts from the strings sometimes take their turn. Percussion, in this case, is often provided unconventionally by the guitar/viola/cello trio, while actual acoustic percussion instruments - a tambourine here, some toms and bass-kicking, a cymbal there  - are used for accent and emphasis, as carefully placed as any of the other players at work here. The primary "rock" component is the guitar's metal influences, but it is also a major part of what makes this such a unique work, as a neoclassical composition. And it is almost fluidly a single composition. Parts are broken down for your convenience; though, "Obelisk" is now melded into a single track. Hearing it as a unified piece is almost a whole new experience. Hell, hearing all of this instrumentally is a whole new experience. By turns, it's so melodic and frenetic, and always impressive.

It is worth mentioning that the end of "Obelisk" has been transformed for its instrumental incarnation, both gentler and more fierce.

Like "Kingdom of Wolves," "Gemini Cycle" has been broken down into five components. I would characterize them as more "bite size," but each chunk is its own unique little movement. As pensive and dramatic as this song is as a whole, it's fun - yes, fun - to see it from this perspective. Each track gives me a little thrill that makes me a bit giddy.

A Flawed Design [Instrumental] brings to mind the difference between Tori Amos' Night of Hunters and its sin palabras counterpart. Each works beautifully in its own way. You would think that the absence of vocal melodies and lyrical poetry would detract from the piece, yet it just provides a different - and insightful - perspective. Here, A Flawed Design is transformed into a neoclassical piece of complex, undulating beauty, different from its prog-rock incarnation in a significant and important, vitally valid way.

 I definitely recommend it. After listening to the con palabras album four-or-five times (I confess, I lost track, as I listened to each song multiple times while writing the above article to be thoroughly informed) I found myself enraptured by the instrumental. It will transport you to a different place, in a very good way.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Welcome to Anniversary 2018!

Jaded Winters and Fleeting Fractals

This has been an incredibly busy month, as I've been cramming in more than maybe I should have leading up to the third anniversary of my debut EP, Progress Report

Progress Report was just that: an update on what I'd been up to and how I was healing following an intense ten-day hospital stay, during which I was violently ill. After my hospitalization I was largely immobile, as the gradual development of neuropathy suddenly hit me full-force, and I could hardly stand because of the pain, and had a very difficult time maintaining my balance. I made my way around the house largely by repelling myself off of walls; stairs were about impossible to manage without crawling; and I used a walker outside of the house. You see, my liver nearly failed, and the damage was spread throughout my body. I ended up staying mostly on the couch and massaging my affected brain with word games on my iPad. Stephen King's Dark Tower series helped keep boredom at bay, perhaps saving my life as I entered a period of severe depression - something I'm already susceptible to.

My discharge from the hospital was on February 18th, 2014, and it was during the following winter that I began to dabble at composing. Music has always been a very large part of my life. I took five years of piano music when I was very young, and I followed that with show choir through middle school and high school. I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play while I was fronting alternative and metal bands as a vocalist. As a soloist, I performed a cappella at open mics. Then I got into a long-term relationship and began focusing on "real" jobs, which lasted six years before a volatile breakup during which I lost everything and had to move to Missouri from Portland, Oregon to try and pick up the pieces of myself and my life. All together, I had about a ten-year hiatus from music.

So I put my years of piano music - and trying my hand at every instrument I picked up - to use on a computer program, and on an iPad app with "simulated" instruments (meaning there's some fret work, strumming, and bowing involved on stringed instruments, apart from the keyboards) and  I composed some instrumentals. One of those earliest was primarily a test to see if those piano lessons had stuck, trying my hand at a more classical-style piece. That song was called "Winter's Discontent," as I anticipated a particularly dark and depressing winter, with my mobility so limited. However, as music became my main focus through this composition work, that winter was not only bearable but somewhat enjoyable, and that song was renamed "Winter's Salve," not completed until after I released Progress Report.

I decided to self-publish some of this work, partly in defiance of every artist's initial fear of making themselves vulnerable by offering up their creation for public scrutiny. Many talented artists I have known have sold themselves short and never pursued that path because of that fear. However, I decided to share this work, even if I didn't plan on selling it, instead offering it up for free, if anyone wanted to download it. I had seven songs ready in February 2015, and decided this "progress report" should be published on the one-year anniversary of my hospital discharge. Instead, in honor of the Dark Tower books that were helping in keeping me sane, I released it on the 19th, a number that figures into that series quite a bit.

The EP almost began with a song called "The Trip Begins," which fortunately has never been heard by anyone else. Being dissatisfied with that song, I instead set to composing a sort of introductory piano ditty, which I completed overnight, and thus "Introducing..." was born. After a couple more cracks at that song, it wound up opening a couple more of those "non-commercial," up-for-grabs EPs. When I actually got confident enough to distribute my work on a wider scale, it opened my first "real" album, Instrumentality, and then a version with beats - "No Introduction Needed" - kicked off my second album, Occultation.

Since then, that melody has been reused a few times, being renamed "Jade's Theme" after a fictional alter ego of mine who is the protagonist of many stories in my head. It's a melody that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and neither is "Winter's Salve."

After a couple of remixes of "Winter's Salve," I decided to try my hand at a minimalist mix closer to the original, bringing to life a version that had been developing in my head to rival the song's definitive version for over two years, the "Alternate Spin." I first shared the result as a bonus track on the Extended Artist's Edition of the album Dialectical Observations, and a desire to make it available to the public at large brought about the idea for Jaded Winters. This also seemed like a good way to bring "Introducing... (Alternate II)" and "Winter's Salve (Alternate Spin)" back into circulation, after their disappearance from my discography, when I decided to pull Instrumentality from stores and streaming platforms.

The concept of Jaded Winters gave me the excuse to try out an all-strings version of "Jade's Theme" that had been matriculating in the back of my mind. This came to fruition as "Jade's Theme (Strung Out)," and then I offered it, and "Winter's Salve (Dialectical)," to the public in a prototype of Winters over the 2017 end-of-year holidays. I knew an "official" version was in the cards for early 2018, and it was a random inspiration to publish it as a Valentine's gift. As it got closer to this release date, I gave another listen to the amateurish "Introducing... (Alternate II)" and "Wnter's Salve (Alternate Spin)." I decided to remove them, and instead made "Winter's Salve (Dialectical)" the definitive version of that song, with a simplified title. I gave "Introducing..." another crack, returning to its original instrumentation, and I recorded "Introducing... (Alternate III)." I then recorded a new mix of "Winter's Salve" with some cool new beats and a couple of synths from a prior, overly-complex remix.  This gave birth to "Winter's Salve (Siren's Call)." This all evened out to the desired number of four tracks.

Backtracking to shortly before Valentine's Day...

I had shared a recording of "Signor Fancypants" on one of my "Jukebox" posts on social media, that wasn't publicly available: how it was on the album Dialectical Observations, but without the interrupted ending that segued abruptly into the introduction for "Less Sinister Cousins." A desire to make this almost single-worthy version widely available also gave me the excuse I hadn't realized I was waiting for to replace the single version of "Fleeting Fractals" with its superiorly mixed Dialectical Observations album version. So it was that a new Fleeting Fractals single came into being with the addition of "Signor Fancypants."

Now, I never did a release article on this blog for either Jaded Winters or Fleeting Fractals, because I knew that I'd be wrapping all of February's activities into one. I never made readers aware of the free-on-Valentine's gift, so to make up for that I'm offering exclusive links here for free downloads:


Jaded Winters is also available at Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon, and TIDAL.

Fleeting Fractals is also available at Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon, and TIDAL.

Neoclassism and Distilled

"Neoclassism" was a title I'd known I'd apply to a song or album for some time. I decided that it would be the title of my follow-up to Dialectical Observations, indicative of the neoclassical direction I seemed to be heading in. However, after I record their initial inspirations, the songs tend to decide which direction they'll take. Sometimes it seems like they're out of my hands until I begin  to engineer their final sound.

"Why Can't We Have Nice Things?" and "Surviving Is Killing Me" were first available as two of the bonus tracks on the Patreon-exclusive Dialectical Observations Extended Artist's Edition. "Nice Things" was continuing down that more neoclassical path, with some heavily electronic, industrial-style beats, similar to "Less Sinister Cousins."

Written in a flurry of anxiety that lasted for three days straight, "Killing Me" was a return to previously explored industrial-metal styles, with a title inspired by Fear The Walking Dead - Alicia informs her mother that "just surviving is killing me," or something to that effect.

"Symbolism" and "Reciprocal" were both jump-started by riffs from previous songs, that I'd been wanting to explore further. The piano riff that begins and then peppers "Symbolism" is from both "Overdrive" and "Passage Through The Veil" on the album Revolutions, which I've wanted to continue as a repeating theme throughout my discography. Perhaps it's because of it's relationship with those two songs that "Symbolism" sounds like it could have also been on Revolutions. The only real commonality it has with my newer writings are instruments that I've only lately begun to use. The glockenspiel found in "Less Sinister Cousins" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy" on Observations makes a return, and a deep-throated, synthesized "bassoon" - that has only recently become available on my DAW - is used to dramatic effect, both as a repeating single-note baritone, and as a soloist with a theme dangerously close to one found in Terminator (I think Sarah Connor's theme in the TV show?).

"Reciprocal" uses the cello climax from "Yours To Burn" on Counterbalance, something so rapid and urgent that I fell in love with it. "Reciprocal" could be considered neoclassical in style, based on the cello-and-viola duet and flute found playing off each other as the lead instruments, but the interrupting guitars and synths make it more of an industrial-metal tune. The title was originally "Eleven," simply because it was the eleventh project file in my DAW. It stuck for quite a while because the number eleven has had significance in various periods of my life. This song wasn't initially going to be on this record, except maybe as an Artist's Edition bonus track. Same with "Reprieve," originally titled "Love & Loss." However, these songs' titles and status were both in flux, and once they informed me of their changes in name, they seemed more significant to the "neoclassism" theme. And when more songs were written before the EP's release, they were relegated to the public version, with the additional songs becoming bonus tracks.

"Otaku" is a very eccentric song, not the same style whatsoever as the other songs, relating to them only in the relentless pace the EP was forming. It was born of the idea to do two acoustic guitar tracks, one jumpstarting the riffs of the other with single sustained notes, but it was really the use of the "Chinese" drum kit that gave the song its style. Some strange electronics give it an industrial quality, and it's because of all these elements that this song really defies classification. I want to say it has an "ethnic" sound, but what that ethnicity is I would be hard-pressed to label. I guess it feels vaguely Asian to me, which could be why "otaku" - a Japanese word described to me as literally meaning "outsider," by the book World War Z - was chosen as a title. However, "otaku" is most often used as a term describing young people with nerdy obsessions, to the detriment of their social skills. I guess this could have labeled me at a point in my life, which in part has informed the person I have become. Such young people seem to have an easier time relating to me than to other adults, and I identify with them as well. So this song is really for this class of "discarded" or "dismissed" youth.

A couple of bonus songs are available on the exclusive Patreon pledge reward, the Neoclassism Artist's Edition. I recorded a version of Revolutions' "The Creeps" that has a cleaner, more piano-and-trip-hop sound, with rerecorded vocals. Because of that song's themes of class war and xenophobia, it was hard not to include it on the public EP. But it's a bit of an experiment that I'm self-conscious about, so it was easier-than-not to keep it as more of a rarity. "Misplaced Romanticism" is another song that was difficult to keep off the record; it has a neoclassical sound, and the title refers to the misguided romanticism applied to other classes - such as the well-off romanticizing poverty, and the  classes lower on the financial ladder assuming that wealth is easy and unearned. There's really multiple sides to the opposite-end-of-the-spectrum classes, and I wanted this record to reflect that; to not only be a rallying of the lower classes against the top one-percent (which is admittedly a stance that I take).

I hope that the themes and the music of this EP are enjoyable to others, and reflect myself and my growth as an artist. If you'd like to support me and my art, please consider buying the songs or digital record from my Snail Tunes store. Otherwise, enjoy it through Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play, Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon, and TIDAL.

And here's my anniversary gift to you all, my celebration of three years of self-publishing my work, and my heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have encouraged and supported this journey. I was hard pressed to think of a theme for this year's EP, and then decided everyone deserves free downloads of my most popular songs from Occultation, Jaded, and Revolutions; songs that have been met with enthusiasm and have earned their way onto radio shows and stations throughout the world of indie music, despite their being instrumentals. It was pretty easy to select them once the theme had been decided. "Simplify" and "Revolutions" have been among my top-three most-played tunes, while "Slowly Scooting Closer" was (I think) the first to be picked up for regular rotation. "The Seventh Swan" and "Wrong Pocket Kinda Day" are both pop-friendly, and have made their rounds, while "Passage Through The Veil" has the most views on my YouTube channel, and was selected by Starlight Music Chronicles to represent my music in an artist-of-the-month contest. Enjoy!

And as always, may your inner snails be resilient and determined.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review - The Captivating Soundscapes of Lorenzo Masotto

"Lorenzo Masotto's journey with music began at the age of nine when he started playing piano. Graduating from Conservatorio di Veona, he consequently started studying composition and jazz. Lorenzo also plays in a prog/post rock band Le Maschere di Ciara, directs a male voice choir, writes music for film and theatre, and teaches piano and composition. 'I've never thought about writing in only one music style,' he says. 'I love all music, and everything I write increases my confidence and ability to write from a wider perspective."

I can tell you right now that this is going to be more of a gushing overview rather than a critiquing review, because I am simply in love with this music. It is flawless and keeps on improving upon what perfection. I consider myself very lucky to have stumbled across the music of Lorenzo Masotto, and I feel compelled to share it with others, as he has released four albums and three EPs that are graceful, emotionally impacting, and shifts in unexpected directions while maintaining absolutely true to itself.

Ironically, even though I often badmouth Soundcloud, it is responsible for my discovery of artists that are now a big part of the soundtrack of my life, such as Suzerain, (iam)warface, and my favorite neoclassical composer, Lorenzo Masotto. On offer were free downloads of "Moon" and "L'impressionista," which I snapped up after giving them a listen. Both songs were essential to playlists of mine that have subsequently become quite expansive, but were just forming when these songs joined them. Therefore, they showed up in my iTunes shuffles quite often. I then realized that this was classical music in a way I had never heard before. It was lyrical without words, soothing without repetition or sleepy ambience, fronted by piano, which I was beginning to love beyond a tool of my training to compose my own songs (Tori Amos also helped quite a bit in this regard).. I had to hear the rest of the album, and I discovered SETA.

This album showcases Lorenzo on the piano with an assortment of guest musicians. It's pretty straightforward in its classical style, and I found myself enthusiastic over an album of this type that I had never been before. So when I discovered that an EP follow-up, Travelers, was released, I dived right in with gleeful abandon, and was not disappointed. It's the perfect epilogue to SETA, offering landscapes described by piano, making their inspirations almost tangible. Without guest musicians, Lorenzo's piano is raw and unencumbered, manifesting unrestricted beauty. I'm not saying that previous guest musicians had limited his compositions, only that alone with his piano, he still manages to evoke an entire orchestra.

Now following this unrivaled composer on Bandcamp, I was notified of the release of a free download of a compilation on which he had contributed a song, called Winter Kept Us Warm, released by Preserved Sound, a label that I continue to keep an eye on. While the album introduced me to multiple artists that I have monitored since, Lorenzo's new song "Chrono" stood out, and has become my favorite song he has released. It is because of this song that I fell completely for Winter Kept Us Warm as a whole. "Chrono" is also the reason I so eagerly anticipated his next release, and when Rule and Case arrived - then available in beautiful hand-made packaging (I believe this was also Preserved Sound's doing) - I practically begged Lorenzo to make it available on Apple Music, through which I was collecting most of my library. Such was not the case, and I was crushed. The following EP, Prime Numbers, almost made up for it. It displayed a fraction of the abstract turn his music was taking, and I could only hope hat his follow-up would be on Apple Music - at the time, my subscription was about all that was in my budget for music.

The pre-release marketing for Aeolian Processes was torturous for me. I didn't think I could handle the disappointment I experienced over Rule and Case again. Lucky for me, it was released on Apple Music, and definitely did not disappoint. Eclectic use of electronics and percussion, with accompanying instruments used in an unusual manner that evokes, but is not, electronic compositions, again with the liberal use of piano; but at times the piano is absent and other instruments, such his stirring strings arrangements, take center stage. This album is all it took to convince me I couldn't live without Rule and Case, and I bought the digital album. One listen of this extraordinary album - one in which I believed true perfection was achieved and even brought me close to tears in unbridled emotion - convinced me that I could never miss out on his music again. I needed to have it all, and I needed to have it now (Rule and Case also contains "Chrono," and nearly every song on the album competes with it for the status as my current favorite). Roughly the same time I took advantage of the free download EP Mountain Paths, which was a return to solo piano, and I voraciously pounced on his discography as listed on his Bandcamp page. I bought the single "Reflector" then and there, but nothing could sate my appetite at that moment. I needed more.

I didn't have to wait too long. When I received an email invitation to hear a preview of his latest album White Materials, I immediately devoted a tab to it as I went about the business of marketing my own music. It was hard to do, as White Materials held my fascination completely. It took everything I loved about Aeolian Processes and Rule and Case to a new level, with the addition of vocals by his wife Stefania Avolio and the return of his sister Laura on the violin. In many ways it is a departure from his familiar styles, and as such he produced it completely by himself, in his home studio. This album rivals Rule and Case as my favorite of his works. Listen to it yourself and be transported into a realm of complete, classical, abstract, and eclectic beauty, in compositions that uniquely defy its categorization at every turn. 

"From the moment my hand touches the piano and I begin to compose, my conscience starts a journey, leaving my body. During its wandering shows me pictures of the places I encounter, creating a sort of connection between my unconscious and my fingers. The colors, the landscapes, the faces of the people it photographs along the way are so clear in my mind to allow to portray those images using the only sound a piano can paint."

- Lorenzo Masotto

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Starlight Music Chronicles - Second Spotlight!

Today - Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 - hot on the heels of being included in Erosion Factory's 100th Show on Beyond The Dawn Radio, my second interview on Starlight Music Chronicle's Spotlight was published! I'm not ashamed to say that editor Candice Anne Marshal's introduction made me blush. It's support like this that helps me believe my music might be taking me somewhere, like this could turn into a truly successful career. That I have people who listen to, pay for, and care about my music is success enough, but being one degree of separation from artists I admire, have the utmost respect for, and even - in some cases - have on pedestals makes my head spin.

This is nicely timed, as I'm doing a second promotional run for Dialectical Observations, which this interview focuses on. Just over a week ago, I released a new Extended Artist's Edition as a Patreon pledge reward, which you can read about in the previous article. I hope this generates even more interest, and that I might actually be on my way to the next step in my dream, releasing a record on physical mediums. If you'd like to help, just make a pledge at my Patreon. There's a lot of rewards to be had, my appreciation not being the least of them.

I hope this article gives you new insight into my latest album. And I hope my excitement is infectious and washes you in the glow I'm feeling. May your own inner snails remain resilient and determined; even if your dreams aren't fully realized, shit like this can still happen!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dialectical Observations - Extended Artist's Edition

It's arrived as a new Patreon patron reward - the Extended Artist's Edition of Dialectical Observations. I'm not sure what I can say about it that hasn't already been said in the prior articles hyping it up, but I'll try to say it differently.

This has really given me a refreshed view of, and enthusiasm for, what has become my favorite of my releases. Don't tell the others I said so, but it's true. I've felt that this album has really upped my game in a new era of my songwriting, the previous era having come to a close, pretty much, with The Instrumentality Project. It doesn't mean I can't revisit any of its songs. In fact, I already have, with a new mix of "Winter's Salve," which I've made one of the Dialectical B-Sides, and which has also made it onto the Extended Edition. "Winter" has long reigned as the neoclassical piano ballad in my overall body of work, and the Alternate Spin has always been considered the "definitive version." I tried to knock it down with the "Fecund Remix," but I feel as though I tried too many (albeit good) ideas in one mix. I've been talking ever since its publication of toning it down and simplifying it, and I finally have. I've removed some of the synths and made the remainder sparse, and I've simplified the beats, making them a closer match to the Alternate Spin's. The piano has been a marriage of the remix's with the original arrangement, and the string arrangements closely match those found in "Fecund Remix." I'd love to share the results with you, but I'm trying to keep a lid on the new tracks to make Patreon pledges more enticing.

What I feel I can share with you, since I already have in two of its forms, is the version of "Why Can't We Have Nice Things?" that made it onto the Extended Edition. There's only a slight difference in the piano of the bridge, when compared with the "B-side." I had to seriously consider the added notes, but settled on them because that's what I heard in my head, whenever I gave the B-side a listen. Sometimes it's better to leave notes out, to merely have them suggested, but in this case I went with making them actually present. It was actually kind of a tough decision. Because of this minor difference, sharing the altered version feels as though I'm not really giving anything away that I haven't before.

Both "Winter's Salve" and "Why Can't We Have Nice Things?" are available as digital downloads to all my Patreon patrons.

What is exclusive to the Extended Artist's Edition is my newest composition, "Surviving Is Killing Me." I wrote this song during a prolonged period of agitation that lasted for three days, always finding some thought or other to feed off of. It was a rough time for me, and it recalled a pervasive and depressing thought about the current state of my life: "This is no way to live." As a person that struggles with bipolar depression (I hate that label, but that's the diagnosis) it's easy for me to focus on negativity. My life is comfortable, productive, and moving in a positive direction, yet I feel depressed and as if I have nothing going for me. This is why gratitude lists are important to create and recall, and this is where music often helps me - it exorcises those nagging demons, or it helps to focus my being on creating beauty and putting it out into the world. In the case of my latest song, I furiously poured my being into something that explores metal territory, which I haven't touched upon since writing "Movement." It was a good feeling to get back into that groove; to sink my teeth into something hard and crunchy. The piano riffs are rapid and the guitar recalls some of the hardest post-metal I've heard, while the synths and clean guitar provide ambient-industrial breathers. I wrapped it up with the chant "This is no way to live" and titled it "Surviving Is Killing Me," after a line from Fear the Walking Dead that I just had to write down.

Both "Why Can't We Have Nice Things" and "Surviving Is Killing Me" are likely to be included on my next full-length EP, but the new mix of "Winter's Salve" isn't likely to be publicly available until a possible four-track single that I'm considering releasing further along.

When weaving these songs into Dialectical Observations, I of course attached them to artwork by Cyril Rolando, which I then worked into the design theme of the rest of the original Artist's Edition.

The additional artwork and track titles were then incorporated into an extended PDF booklet, making for a lovely overall digital package. What I would love to do is a limited professional printing of physical copies of the extended album, with a discounted price for Patreon patrons. As it is, I'd need several more pledges, and the printing couldn't take place until after those pledges were collected upon the release of my next project, a full-length EP. However, I've already given away one physical copy, handmade for my mother's birthday. This is an approximation of what I hope I could distribute.

To sum it all up: "Why Can't We Have Nice Things?" and the new mix of "Winter's Salve" are available to all Patreon patrons as Dialectical B-Sides. Worked into Dialectical Observations (Extended Artist's Edition), they are accompanied by "Surviving Is Killing Me" with additional track art and an extended PDF, as part of the top tier of Patron Rewards.

I would love your direct support in my continuing endeavors to put a little beauty back into the world with my music, and the best way to do that is with a Patreon pledge. However, as an alternative, you can also buy my songs, EPs, or albums directly from me at my Snail Tunes store.

Thanks for your consideration, and may your inner snails be resilient and determined!

P.S. I almost forgot to include the new track list!

01. "When Anchorage Became An Island"
02. "Man Seeking Cocoon (For NSA LTR)"
03. "Surviving Is Killing Me"
04. "Familial Germs"
05. "Movement (Alternate Spin)"
06. "Butterflies On Ganymede"
07. "Fleeting Fractals"
08. "Why Can't We Have Nice Things?"
09. "Signor Fancypants"
10. "Less Sinister Cousins"
11. "Fistfuls of Whimsy (Alternate Spin)"
12. "Winter's Salve"