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Steve Ball ~ Music Sketches

I began writing a daily online Diary in October 1999, well before 'blogging' was even a word let alone a trendy fashion among millions of publicly pontificating would-be authors. It is clear there is a massive shift going on in how normal people communicate, share their thoughts, and perhaps more interestingly, share their work, via the web. In late August of 2004, I decided to shift the primary focus of this forum to share the music 'sketches' I'm working on rather than just spew another year of 8pt verdana thoughts, observations, and opinions into these pages. As bandwidth and disk sizes increase rapidly, naturally, so do the opportunities to connect directly to artists and their media works in progress.  This was one of the original (as yet unrealized) visions of BootlegTV, and this 'Music Diary' is one small, practical baby-step toward the full-blown ability to 'subscribe' to an artist's ongoing daily work.  The U2 iPod and podcasting are perhaps other baby-steps toward the original BTV vision, but this Music Diary is one small practice that I can manage via venture-unfunded, DIY-sharing.  Granted, this is not quite SteveBallTV.com, but with cellphones becoming high-res Digital Still Cameras, and eventually HD video cameras, the ability to capture and share experiences, such as live shows, is only going to multiply.  'Average Blog 2005' = text + pics.  'Average Blog 2010' = text + pics + audio + video + communications + live webcam + subscription model + targeted marketing + revenue.  For now, for those with BW and curiosity, here's a 'free' snapshot of the evolution of my ongoing music work.

Side note, about 'songtiles' -- as iTunes and Rhapsody and MSN and Napster radically change the music distribution process from an 'album' based physical process to a song-based network process, it is also clear that there is also an evolution needed in 'album art.'  In short, each song has potential to have it's own accompanying 'cover art' that, ideally, represents the visual essence of the song (rather than the classic 'album cover' of the past 40 years, which represents a collection of songs.) My own self-coined term for this 'album art for songs' is 'songtile'-- a label I've applied only for lack of a more precise and unique term to describe exactly what the specific combination of song + image can do to uniquely identify a standalone song in an undifferentiated sea of visual noise that most people navigate to browse their digital music collections. 

If you are in 'view album art' mode in your player, this will also make more sense.  Likewise, when you view your online music collection in 'tile' mode, it also becomes much easier to parse, find, select the specific songs you are after when there is a unique image for each individual song. Of course, only formats that support image embedding work, but it involves addition of a new step in the music authoring process -- the song is not really 'complete' until it is mastered, compressed, and has its songtile embedded and part of the experience.  


Piano, Guitar, and Song Sketches
Sofie’s Suite: Complete (8.9M MP3)

Five Four Three Two – all in One.  Nice to put this piece to bed since it’s been putting Sofie to bed so much over this past six months.

Rhapsody (2.6M mp3)   Inspiration to capture and share this came out of my first practice session this morning, a reminder back to 1989 when a germ of this piece was first auditioned at a League of Crafty Guitarists sound check somewhere in the mid-west. 

This is a classic ‘Level II’ Guitar Craft composition: oodles of textural 16th notes dancing up and down the fret board.  Not necessarily great music, but useful for the composer to get to know how to write and arrange for ensembles.  I believe the quote from Robert at the time was “the piece does not deliver what it promises.”  The not-ready-for-prime-time version we auditioned that day had some words brewing with Patricia Leavitt on rapping vocals.

A stronger version of this piece was also performed by the ensemble ‘Curtains’ at Washington Square Church in 1991 featuring Tobin Buttram, Steve Jolemore, Nigel Gavin, Karen Thomas, myself, and a Boston percussionist whose name I cannot remember right now. 

I also remember our old friend and record shop proprietor, Manny, dancing wildly in the back of the church to this piece which closed the show.  Before Electric Gauchos were born in 1997, this was my first experiment with guitar ensembles + percussion.

Seven Forever (2.3M MP3)

In seven, four tracks recorded literally back-to-back, bounced after minimal editing: fading heads and tails. A quick glimpse of what group improv might be like if everyone in the group shared the same vision and vocabulary.

Niagara (3.8M mp3)

This is a new C3 song being built on an excellent solo guitar track from band mate, Ivan Lee.   It’s, of course, still a work in progress (Paul’s bass line is still under development) but I hope to add this to our live set within the month.

Eve (10.9M mp3) – three guitar parts, all improvised, one after another.

Lyrics and vocals not far behind, but enough for one long

Ark (12.8M mp3) -- this is the song built on the Ivan Lee’s excellent original solo guitar piece (Ardacia) with a second guitar part added (Arc) and now evolving further with lyrics, vocals and harmonies. 

I woke up deep inside a bubble
and pierced my heart with a silver shovel
then stumbled into a stage with strangers
while you were out and away in a manger  
while wise men waltzed around your stable
I went to work putting food on the table
I built a boat and sailed away

twelve disciples go to eleven ten times fast
nine lives eight knives seven sins cut into the past    

* * *

see how these curves bind us
a full circle sails behind us
if we play an ark will find us and we'll connect again



Hollow (14.1M mp3).

This is a bootleg of Hollow captured on Paul O'Rear's portable recorder in the back of the room from our SBRS live show at a Coffee House in Redmond this evening.


Leaving the Mission (4.2M mp3).

Some breakthroughs today, on many levels. And, this evening, a quick and quirky reflection of what it takes to leave a warm nest, mostly inspired by an insightful email from Paul O'Rear.

"In tenderness of heart the tone turns into a half-tone, and with the breaking of the heart the tone breaks into microtones. The more tender the heart becomes, the fuller the tone becomes. The harder the heart grows, the more dead it sounds.

Each note, each scale, and each strain expires at the appointed time, and at the end of the soul's experience here the finale comes. But the impression remains, as a concert in a dream, before the radiant vision of the consciousness.

With the music of the Absolute the bass, the undertone, is going on continuously. But on the surface beneath the various keys of all the instruments of nature's music, the undertone is hidden and subdued. Every being with life comes to the surface and again returns whence it came, as each note has its return to the ocean of sound. The undertone of this existence is the loudest and the softest, the highest and the lowest. It overwhelms all instruments of soft or loud, high or low tone, until all gradually merge in it. This undertone always is, and always will be."

from The Mysticism of Sound and Music
page 166, by Hazrat Inayat Khan

Captain Kumbaya (Vocal Version) (3.3M mp3).

when I look down

I clearly see brown dirty ground
under my feet
building on what is below
minions opinions pure ego
cheap geeky creeps
piling heaps
of cheeky petty sweaty prose
from fat headless beasts
with fists of meat
grinding their teeth
minus the beef
pounding a sound
claiming brown is coming back
it's the new black
someone's sleeping lord

when you come around
I hear this sound
four seconds long,a microsong
massaging the air everywhere
starting the show, soft Crimson glow
ascending dual parts
preceding Start
opening a Window
to the heart
a soft glassy cue
a mini jewel
short splashing swirl
four color Pearl
someone's crying lord
Reddish (3.9M mp3) 

A guitar sketch with drums, about to become a song.
April Fool (4.8M mp3)
Saturday April 1st, 2006

This song skeleton emerged from hallway practice over this past week.   A simple seed, unrelated to the Fly By project, as far as I can tell.  It is more likely that this will evolve into a song.  I can tell there are lyrics hovering just on the the other side of the notes in the guitar lines.

the trick is to turn the notes over to uncover the words that are already waiting within the notes.

* * *


Fly By - 12 (3.1M mp3).

Completion, and back to the beginning.
Fly By - 11 (4.2M mp3).

A recapitulation of the Fly By 01 theme.

Eleven down, one to go.

Fly By - 10 (2.80M mp3)
Tuesday March 14th, 2006

The organic oscillating patterns in the fields continue as we move into brighter sunlit fields of early morning.  A small crop duster leaves a smooth spray in its wake crossing the thin blue waterways that break up the field into manageable plots.  

* * *

Part II, and an extension of Fly By 09, also played with David LaVallee's (1920-ish) Martin mandolin with some additional driving orchestration. Fitting that an airplane would also (coincidentally?) end up in this piece given David's recent work with the Airport Exercise.

This is Music for Flying.

* * *

Fly By - 09 (3.90M mp3)
Friday March 3rd, 2006

Moving further into rural territory, we are overtaken with symmetrical but never the same twice patterns in the fields.  No crop circles here, but there is definitely a pattern reflecting a larger intelligence seldom seen from the ground.

* * *

Played with David LaVallee's (1920?) Martin mandolin which I've been keeping warm for awhile. This is the second piece that has been graced with this instrument, first public piece.

* * *

Fly By - 08 (4.08M mp3)
Sunday January 15th, 2006

From so high above, the fires below seem to dance gently across the fields.  And surprisingly,  nearby there is a great highway full of night travelers, also apparently moving slowly, an illusion from being so high above. 


Fly By - 07 (5.24M mp3)
Thursday January 13th, 2006

The night landscape begins to be come illuminated in the distance by dancing shadows from some great fires on the horizon.

Fly By - 06 (3.86M mp3)
Tuesday January 10th, 2006

We enter the dusk sky, as the street lights begin to glow on corners of country roads.  Musically, we have intentionally entered territory reminiscent of Steve Reich's Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices & Organ, although this piece adds multiple asymmetrical guitar counterpoints to the slower descending lines.

Fly By - 05 (3.66M mp3)
Sunday January 8th, 2006

A phone call this afternoon confirms interest in pursuing publishing a Fly By endless fold-out book and DVD/CD hybrid.

As if 2006 were not full enough already with interesting projects. I am to do some homework on production costs for a follow-up call on Tuesday. Musically, there is more than enough inspiration embedded within these pictures.

* * *

Fly By - 04 (5.77M mp3)
Sunday December 18th, 2005

This is clearly 'scaffolding' waiting to be reborn as a vocal song later this week. In the meantime, it's a next step and a move into the suburbs after Fly By 3.

I'll stitch the four Fly By's together later this week as well for a preview of the first two pages.

Fly By - 03 (4.99M mp3)
Thursday December 15th, 2005

Third sketch in the series: this is one quarter of page 2 of 24. And even a few weeks later I still don't know the artist's name, title of the book.

This project is aching to become a CD/DVD combination.  Perhaps II of III in a 'music for books' series. 

Fly By - 02 (3.97M mp3)
Monday December 12th, 2005

Second sketch in the series: this is still page 1 of 24! I still don't know the artist's name or title of the book, but even on day two, it's still a stunningly huge undertaking. I plan on executing three sketches to test the waters with the publisher.

Fly By - 01 (7.99M mp3)
Saturday December 10th, 2005

A sketch for a new potential project. I don't even know the artist's name or title of the book, but it's a stunning new undertaking. This is simply a sketch to test the idea of 24 pages of aerial images that unfold endlessly + music that does the same. The song tile shown here is only 1/4 of page one.

Thanksgiving Day II (4.98M mp3)
Sunday December 11th

This is a second, alternative rendering partially inspired by a Duncan Weller letter in which he eloquently describes the positive and uplifting energy in the music of Yes compared to more cynical, negative, energies sometimes associated with other well-known progressive groups. Here's my own v2 with a brighter spin than vI.

I can love anyone
anywhere anything
rainy day shiny sun
I can love anyone
I can be anything
senator janitor
sinner chooser winner loser
president resident
engineer puppeteer
ventriloquist minimalist
hypnotist pragmatist
diplomat bureaucrat
corny cob music snob
famous guy secret spy
artist freak crazy fling
I can be anything I found my religion:
a practiced exactness inside
no room for uncertain diversions designed to divide
my time with confusion, illusion or cynical friends
out forging fine fossils for future museums

Thanksgiving Day I (4.6M mp3)
Thursday November 24th

This song was born out of an improv that the new Roadshow line-up has been playing with over the past month or so. The backing track for this song sketch was recorded at TravisM's place with just our two guitars. It's full of warts and unpolished ups and downs, but it's been enough to give me a backing track to quickly sketch out some lyrics and vocal harmonies during this little holiday break. It's no masterpiece, but it flew out and landed fairly intact.

I also added some organ to fill in the low end gaps where PaulO's substantial Rickenbacker bass is missing. Add Dan Moore's energetic drums to this piece, and it's got quite a poppy little life of it's own. Meantime, here's a V1 sketch of the work in progress. There is also an alternative lyrics version in the works that is a 'cup half full' version compared to this "cup half empty" version.

I don't care what I wear
what I read what I need
what I see what I say
doesn't matter anyway
I don't care what you do
what you know where you go
where you are how you are
what you wear I don't care

The Long Tail (3.8M mp3)
Friday September 2nd

A restful Sunday, then, this evening, another quick song sketch on the way with PaulO and TravisM. This one is an improvisation, still a little shaky in the middle, and lyrics not 100% there yet, but some clean up and completion on the way.

The Long Tail title is reference (of course) to the major technology trend of this decade, perhaps even this century: normal people now have the tools to be artists, authors, publishers, and distributors. 

It's a move that gives us the access to and ability to focus on leaves without dependence upon a giant (monopolistic) trunk.  

Night Wall - Complete (40.2M mp3)
Thursday October 1st, 2005

On July 31st, I took on a project to write a musical score to accompany Duncan Weller's book Night Wall.  The project unfolded one page and one day at a time. 

In initiating this project, I had no idea where it would lead, and each night as I turned the page, I was faced with the challenge of orchestrating the amazing words and images of this multi-level story. The melodies and forms of each section seemed to pour out as if they were simply already there waiting for me to unveil them from underneath each page.

Lyrics, Story, Paintings: Duncan Weller
Songs, Arrangements, Vocals, Guitars, Pianos
: SB
Night Wall Theme Bass: Paul O'Rear
Night Wall Theme Acoustic Guitar
: Travis Metcalf
Secret Agent Theme Bass
: Derek DiFilippo
Night Wall - page 17 (4.4M mp3)
Monday September 29th
That afternoon, Julie took a nap after lunch.

She slept peacefully while Sarah brought out her plasticine and modelling tools and made her own monster.

The day arrived when it was time to go home. They headed south, taking the chest with them.

“I’ll miss the forest,” said Sarah.

“We’ll come back soon,” promised Julie.

The would often return to the cabin in the forest, but never again would the monsters leave the violet chest.

From then on, the monsters remained very small.


Night Wall - page 16 (4.1M mp3)
Monday September 28th
Julie was apprehensive but finally agreed to go with Sarah into the forest.

Along the wooded path something caught Julie’s attention. Moving closer, she discovered a small violet chest, partly hidden in the vines and ferns.

Sarah ran to the chest and opened it.

“Look! Look! She cried with delight.

Julie knelt down beside Sarah. Inside the chest were all the creatures from the previous night, in the form of tiny, brightly painted figurines.

"They’re so small,” said Julie.

“See – they’re not so scary,” said Sarah, smiling.


Night Wall - page 15 (5.9M mp3)
Sunday September 27th

( instrumental )


Night Wall - page 14 (2.7M mp3)
Saturday September 26th
One by one as the sun rose, the creatures climbed back over the wall and disappeared into the forest.

The construction crew arrived in the morning and took the down the wall. The men enjoyed smashing it to pieces.

After they left, Sarah begged Julie to take a walk with her in the forest, telling her, “The monsters are gone. Let’s go! It’s okay now.

She added, “The forest is so beautiful."

"You’ll see for yourself.”


Night Wall - page 13 (2.0M mp3)
Friday September 24th
Julie quickly locked all the doors and windows. Then she called the contractor and said firmly, “The wall doesn’t work. We’ve got monsters in our backyard. You’ve got to take the wall down – tonight!"

There was a pause.

“Okay, then first thing tomorrow morning. I want that wall down!”

Sarah stayed close to Julie while the creatures surrounded the cabin.

“It looks like a circus out there” said Sarah, taking a peek out the window.

“Do you think they’re real?”

“Of course they’re real.” Julie answered.

“You see them, don’t you?”


Page 12


Night Wall - page 11 and 12 (2.6M mp3)
Saturday September 19th
…the creatures had returned, but there were more of them.

Julie and Sarah rand out again, but this time…

...the creatures had returned, but there were more of them. Julie and Sarah rand out again, but this time…“the creatures climbed over the wall, and… lurched into the backyard.


Night Wall - page 10 (1.6M mp3)
Saturday September 12th 

Sarah ran outside and Julie followed.

Swinging their brooms wildly, the screamed at the creatures, “GO AWAY! SHOOO! GET OUT OF HERE!


Night Wall - page 9 (1.2M mp3)
Saturday August 28th
Julie took one look at the creatures and jumped in fright. She quickly grabbed two brooms, gave one to Sarah and cried,

“We have to get rid of them! They have to go away!”

“They look just like cartoons,” Sarah said.

“They don’t look so scary.”


Night Wall - page 8 (2.3M mp3)
Sunday August 21st

Imagined ghosts and leering monsters!


Night Wall - page 7 (2.0M mp3)
Saturday August 20th
When Sarah passed the living room window, what caught her eyes made her yell in surprise, “LOOK! LOOK! LOOOOOK!”


Night Wall - page 6 (4.9M mp3)
Wednesday August 16th
The wall was up. The sun feel behind the trees.

It was the blue hour before sunset. In that magical hour, in the forest behind the wall, strange creatures began to appear.


Night Wall - page 5 (2.9M mp3)
Saturday August 6th
“The men from the construction company arrived early and set to work immediately. By the afternoon, the wall was almost finished.

Sarah brought some lemonade to the men. She liked how they called each other names such as Big Bear, Wolfman, and Wildcat. One of the men said to Sarah, ‘You need a wall like I need a bad toothache.’

‘I don’t want the wall’ said Sarah, ‘Julie does.’

The man frowned and went back to work.”


Night Wall - page 4 (3.6M mp3)
Wednesday August 3rd

"Julie didn't like the woods at night. She roamed around the cabin nervously. When she looked out the windows, she saw moving shadows in the moonlight that shifted between the trees and imagined ghosts and leering monsters. Her sleep that night was uneasy.

Early the next morning, Julie called a contractor from the nearest town. She told him that she wanted a wall built around the cabin."

Night Wall - page 3 (3.5M mp3)
Tuesday August 2nd

"Later, Sarah sang along happily to her radio while she unpacked her things. She was thrilled to be on a big adventure. When night fell, Julie came to the room and asked her to turn off the music.

'Sarah, I want quiet now. It's time to get ready for bed.'

Tucked into bed, Sarah closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of crickets and the wind whispering through the trees. She imagined climbing to the top of the tallest tree and becoming a bird that could fly over the forest in the starry night."

Night Wall - page 2 (2.3M mp3)
Monday August 1st

"Soon after they arrived, Julie and Sarah set out to explore the woods. They found a path and followed it deep into the forest.

'I feel like I'm walking on the bottom of the ocean,' Sarah said."

Night Wall - page 1 (3.5M mp3)
Sunday July 31st

"Julie and her young cousin Sarah left their city homes of towering glass and steel and traveled north. Julie was hoping to escape for a while from what she called her busy cartoon life. Sarah was looking forward to their stay in a small cabin in the woods.

After a long journey they finally came to where the roads ended and the walking paths in the great forests began."

From Night Wall, copyright 2005, Duncan Weller.

 Buy the book now! Vocals: SB Guitars: Travis Metcalf and SB Bass: Paul O'Rear Lyrics, Story, Paintings: Duncan Weller Hmmm...

What is this new huge and challenging jigsaw puzzle have I now initiated? One page down. Seventeen to go.

* * *


Independence Day (0.9M mp3)
Tuesday July 5th

This songtile image is from a photo taken near Denny Creek a couple of weeks ago just before I took a brief dive into the super-cold water of said creek.

Also, just back from a trip east to an immediate family reunion. We were offline and generally unplugged the entire time: refreshing and rather disorienting. This mini-vacation was completed with work on the Airport Exercise in the Atlanta airport on my Steinberger. And what a treat to read Freakonomics on the flight home. Tempting to quote many passages here, but best to simply recommend buying and reading the whole book.

Birthday (4.2M mp3)
Sunday June 12th

Birthday image from a photo by Pablo Mandel. Another guitar sketch waiting to become a song sketch. Plenty of raw lyrical fuel has been generated on this rather significant weekend.

Jigsaw (7.7M mp3)
Sunday June 5th

With Paul O'Rear and Travis Metcalf:  this is still a bit of a blank canvas w/ some semi-interesting textures. But the foreground is missing. The real challenge will be finding a four hour block to discover the lyrics and add vocals to this puzzling piece. But it's in the queue.

It was nice to have Travis and Paul over for a brief reunion concert for an important out of town visitor and a super-patient girlfriend. Then, into a spirited rehearsal after almost two months since our last show.

Some groups actually do this the other way around: rehearsal then show. We are different. But we are back in action, and there is some nice newness brewing.

Assault on the Consensus (9.1M mp3)
Sunday May 29th

From the Archive: Memorial Day Weekend, digging through some memories, and stumbled upon this in the 'songs that deserve to be heard' closet -- this one from the "Prometheus" CD, written in 1992, recorded in 1993, released in 1994. For me, this piece was the highlight of a seven year collaboration with Sanford Ponder.  Musicians: Sanford Ponder (guitars), Steve Ball (guitars, vocals), Nigel Gavin (bass), Pat Mastelotto (drums), Chris Rhyne (keyboards).

If you listen in headphones, you will experience for yourself why Sanford deserves the Oscar he won for Sound Design on FF Coppola's Dracula. And also, IMNSHO, why Pat Mastelotto so righteously deserved to join Sylvian Fripp and King Crimson just after this project was released.

we saw it coming, a white knife rising
our eyes connected, our senses widened
should have pulled out while the door was open
should have fixed the leak when it was broken
righteous selfish ~ throwback repeat
silent protest ~ blinded senseless
pink plastic bandage on an airbrush cancer
pour from the rubber tongue: elastic answer
dissected, disconnected, empty motion
the outside amplified, the inside frozen


Here Comes the Son (5.5M mp3)
Friday May 27th

With Fernando Kabusacki.  

The raw tracks were originally recorded in October of 2003 when Ferny was visiting Seattle on his way back to Buenos Aires from Japan. No editing here. This was direct, one take. Ferny on guitar, me on piano.

Acoustic Ballistic Boxer (5.2M mp3)
Thursday May 26th

More cleaning out the song closet with an old favorite from 1998 solo CD "Ballistic" which kicked-off a new phase of recorded solo work. 

I used to love playing this live. It was always sort of an analog mash-up, before there ever was such a thing in popular culture.

This version was recorded and mixed with Steven Rhodes, mostly in the Redwest C game (music)studios. That's Steven on bass.

Interesting to contrast this piece of history with my more recent work. This acoustic version was recorded entirely after the Electric Guitar loop version was recorded (Track 7 on the Ballistic CD.)

Bottom Rung (4.9M mp3)
Sunday May 1

Cleaning out the song closet with a re-mixed version of this song from Sept 2003.

bottom rung  ~ song is sung
time is come ~ we are done
all that you said to me
letters you read to me
your words are dead to me
died on the vine
how can I comprehend
your lover, your ‘special friend’
was I misled or was that by design?
grass is long ~ leaves all brown  ~ trees fell down
made no sound
I knew why you looked so nice
made such a sacrifice
walked out to roll your dice
when my cards were down
but why did you wait so long
sing my song, drag it on
freeze me out, lead me on
you knew I would drown
please him, tease him, in the end he'll be gone
leave me, grieve me,
in the end you'll still have this song

bottom rung  ~ song is sung
time is come ~ we are done

The Pair (5.6M mp3)
Monday April 25th

Celebrating a sort of anniversary.

Sermon on the Moat (Vocal Version) (3.9M mp3)
Sunday April 10th

check it: haven't I been here before, already been through this door?  where is the breadcrumb trail?
all assumptions are stale, energy leaking out, relatives freaking out, evidence breaking out, audience walking out, I'd better check on the math
re-attach my better half, this comedy makes me cry, this tragedy makes me laugh, but why do I preach to a choir, and why does it squelch my desire, and what would take to inspire, instead of short-shocking my wire, why has my stream stopped, has my esteem been cropped, what did this sermon cost? is my investment lost?
they say the weak will inherit the dirt
and they say the meek shall stay inherit the Work
blessed is call waiting, blessed is speed dating
blessed are safe vices, blessed are gas prices
blessed is low fat beer, blessed is peer to peer
blessed are sushi rices, blessed are small devices
blessed are honest bankers, blessed are laundromats, blessed are TV anchors, blessed are psychopaths, blessed is free delivery, blessed is amazon, blessed is quick recovery, blessed is al-anon, i'd be a great disciple, I'd sit straight in the pews, I'd be a sweet apostle, I'd wear the perfect shoes, I'd be a great crusader, and wear a matching coat, I'd be a great ghost writer
of the Sermon on the Moat
what did this lesson cost me?
is my investment lost?

Sermon on the Moat (3.8M mp3)
Friday April 8th

Continuing on with the theme of 'little mistakes' that began with Sign Error we have Sermon on the Moat. 'Moat' could be a simple typo that caused this earnest guest lecturer to show up at the wrong location. These poor crocks seem unsure about whether they should listen or simply eat the guest. How many meetings, shows, lectures, seminars, performances, classes have you been in where it was obvious to you that the guest lecturer (or musician or instructor) had no idea who he/she was speaking (or playing) to?

Lyrics not quiet there yet, but on the way.

Character Sketch - Vocal Version (3.2M mp3)

who would have ever guessed
you'd be first to fall down
on the ground
in your prime time
your shine time
so young?

1 english farm boy sure smile and pure charm and
sure style boy great tan great man boy

2 twice the farm boy sure smile charm pure style
no snake oil plan boy what a great tan boy great man just a boy

who would ever have guessed
you'd be first to fall down
on the ground
in your prime time?

who would ever have guessed?


* * *

RIP Charlie Hewitt.

Abundance (5.2M mp3)
Monday April 4th

'Abundance' painting by Erika Ekert.

Sign Error - Vocal Version (5.6M mp3)
Sun April 3
never said it would be easy ~ why you always seem so busy ~ why you always seem so busy ~ never said it would be easy ~ I burned my hand in the hottest fire ~ I wrapped my heart up in your barbed wire ~ traded my map for a faint desire ~ gave up my soul-o to sing in your choir ~ why you always seem so busy ~ waiting for you makes me dizzy ~ waiting for you makes me crazy ~ why you always seem so busy ~ minor mistakes back at the beginning ~ slammed on the breaks when my horse was winning ~ sold out my savings in endless spending ~ pulled out rolled into a spinning ending ~ I was climbing your word tree ~ when your leaves came crashing down on me ~ raked your words into one big blurb ~ and sent all your sentences to the curb ~ rhythm in these repercussions ~ drowning without deep discussions ~ reading underneath your headlines ~ dancing all around your land mines ~ aren't you aware of what we've invested ~ do you not care what we've just ingested ~ how can it be you are not interested ~ can you not hear what is being suggested ~ it's hard to chew this residue and half-baked plan and grand break through ~ it's hard to trade in what I feel ~ for bland mark land shark spew ~ conclusions here are all contracted ~ decisions here are all distracted ~ surprises here are all pre-sorted ~ desires here are all distorted ~ why do you always seem so busy ~ waiting for you makes me dizzy ~ waiting for you makes me crazy
why you always seem so busy
Sign Error (4.5M mp3)
Sat May 12

Sometimes, what appears to be a small mistake near the beginning of a process can generate massive repercussions down the line.

The World As It Might Be - Vocal Version(6.2M mp3) Mon May 7
here we worship the purple while squaring the circle
we stare at our shoes we gain nothing to lose
when we pay the right dues & respect correct hues
and we follow the clues to a sequence of cues
'til we play so much faster a sonic disaster
and mimic the master cast his methods in plaster
and we pay his commission & assume the position
of apostle, physician and accept the condition
of bad timing, bad rhyming and shaming the true
blame the teacher the teaching
while grabbing and reaching
for Nick, Kurt, Elliott, and Kevin
up singing songs in heaven
where there's no selling or killing or drilling their
braniac maniac mystical messages into the red
now we're sick sucked down dry
dated dirty and dead
stuck in sand half in hell buried up to the head
and no starfuck to sell
with one podcast a day full of nothing to say
it's the stellar all thriller
all killer all filler american way
so let's get this closing show on the road
there is dirt in our blood from girls wrestling in mud
it's desirous a virus to divide or inspire us
spouting truth inside fiction
in a food mood prediction
a rapid remission of a previous position
a religious rescission a disastrous decision
so blind that we can't see the world as it might be
The World As It Might Be (6.18M mp3)
Sat Mar 5th
"In one sense, this book tries to describe the world as it is, looking at things that at first glance may not seem similar but that are ultimately very much alike. But this book is also about the world as it might be. One of the striking things about the wisdom of crowds is that even though its effects are all around us, it's easy to miss, and even when it's seen, it can be hard to accept. Most of us, whether voters or investors or consumers or managers believe that valuable knowledge is concentrated in  few hands (or rather, in a very few heads.) We assume the key to solving problems or making good decisions is finding that one right person who will have the answer. Even when we see a large crowd of people, many of them not especially well-informed, do something amazing like, say, predict the outcome of horse races, we are more likely to attribute that success to a few smart people in the crowd than to the crowd itself. As sociologists Jack B. Soll and Richard Larrick put it, we feel the need to 'chase the expert.' The argument of this book is that chasing the expert is a mistake, and a costly one at that."

more excellence from The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, by James Surowiecki

Watch My Input (Vocal Version)
(5.2M mp3) - Sun Feb 27th.
watching my input turning down my output
finding out if these shoes fit
rub my feet on the carpet
unplugged from your socket
sold your heart-shaped locket
I traded in my rocket
I emptied out my pocket
and reset my clock
stopped chasing your carrots
stopped feeding your parrots
stopped fearing washing away the stain
stopped singing the sad score
from yesterday's game
be pleased to meet the mercury man
he's going to take and break his bread
out on the witness stand
and sing and share and sell
and celebrate his patented plan
jumping over a trip-wire
a burned-in frozen fake-fire
forgetting, regretting, how upsetting
you just wouldn't, no couldn't ever understand
watching waiting drifting dating
contemplating fasting fading
watching my input sinking in a tar pit
start me up I can't stop it
wake me up I can't help it
rub my feet on the carpet
need an electric shock to restart my clock
Watch Your Inputs (5.1M mp3) - Sat Feb 26th.

Discovered this excellent (and long) Brian Eno interview from 1980. Extremely prophetic and inspiring discussion.
Eno Interview: (75.1M mp3).

Blurb from the interview:

"When I was at art school there was a real revolution going on in most of the arts which later came to be called conceptual art, but which initally began as 'process art' or 'system art' , the role of the artist was not to specifiy unique products, and to come up with sort of 'single perfect creations', but to specify procedures that were in themselves interesting, that which could then give rise to a number of different results... I became disenchanted with results that really weren't very interesting. I thought that it should be possibe to have both interesting procedures and interesting results. And it seemed to me, the clue to doing that is to watch your inputs carefully."

* * *
Hit or Miss? (5.31M mp3) - Sat Feb 12th.

Today's Songtile was originally drawn in late winter of 1985, almost exactly 20 years ago to the day. At the time, the Sony Walkman was in widespread use across college campuses including my own. I had (and still have) a rather large vinyl music collection, however, almost overnight, thin black plastic headphones began to show up in classes, lounges, and coffee shops as people began moving their music collections to more portable cassette tapes.

* * *

Character Sketch (3.1M mp3) - Thurs Feb 10th.

More fun and relevant quotes from the Travis Hartnett mailbag:
"I read an interview with some Nashville session guitarist, and he said that people on the periphery of music and such were always talking about their relationship to 'The Arts', whereas all the actual musicians he knew always talked about money."

* * *

Correspond (2.7M mp3). - Wed Feb 9th.

Excerpts from

"Another factor in this choice is that writing fiction every day seems to be an essential component in my sustaining good mental health. If I get blocked from writing fiction, I rapidly become depressed, and extremely unpleasant to be around. As long as I keep writing it, though, I am fit to be around other people. So all of the incentives point in the direction of devoting all available hours to fiction writing.

I am not proud of the fact that some of my e-mail goes unanswered as a result. It is never my intention to be rude or to give well-meaning readers the cold shoulder. If I were a commercial best-seller, I would have enough money to hire a staff to look after my correspondence. As it is, my books are bought by enough people to provide me with a sort of middle-class lifestyle, but not enough to hire employees, and so I am faced with a stark choice between being a bad correspondent and being a good novelist. I am trying to be a good novelist, and hoping that people will forgive me for being a bad correspondent."

* * *

Flight Risk (4.4M mp3) - Tues Feb 8th.

Interesting to examine the fight vs. flight risk that emerges at times in both minute to minute conflicts and long-term career choices.

On a lighter note, saw Bill Frisell, at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard with Pete and Toby. Another "I can't believe he's doing that" evening. Inspired, and sleepless.

Nice to see a pile of friends including Johnni and Gordon. Quote of the evening from Jeana: "is the urban legend true that you write and record a new piece of music every night?"

Quote of the evening from Bill Frisell on stage: "I'm sorry to whoever it was I said 'F**k You' to. We love you." 

* * *


Just Passing Through (5.05M mp3) - Mon Feb 7th.
This image is from a photo that my dad took from my parents backyard on Jan 7th. He sent it to me in an email with the subject "Just Passing Through." Turns out, among other relevant immediate futures, this is also apt description of my (public) January Music Diary. It's been an extremely busy and active month, although you may not know it from reading these relatively stagnant pages.

It turns out the songwriting is another actualizing activity that falls into the 'four-hour quantum rule' first noticed and documented by Travis Hartnett. That is, like most home projects, creative endeavors, or 'this will just take a second' computer chores, it actually requires a minimum block of four hours to complete anything of merit.

Most of my January has been sliced into slivers of mode-shifting frenzy whose minimum block is much much less than the four hours required to complete many of the five or six vocal Song Sketches that are underway in parallel. We shall see how the rest of February stacks up against this four-hour rule.

* * *


Much That is Not Said - Vocal Version
(3.2M mp3) - Sun Jan 16th.
silent night
wholly unquiet
stillness sealed in a half-frozen riot
slowly these syllables lost in the word
the second hand, stopped, is now coming in third
deaf ears can't believe the last sound they've just heard
the meaning inside has now died, disappeared

silent dark
circling shark
wash this pain down the drain
uncrossed t's and eyes dotted with red
silence shouts so much more than is said
sleeping, heavy in pieces
sleeping now, heavy in pieces

* * *




Remembering the Future - Vocal Version
(5.9M mp3) - Wed Jan 12th.

remember me
do you remember me
do you remember where
do you remember where we
do you remember where we met
do you remember what
do you remember what we
do you remember what we said?

remember me
do you remember
do you remember me
do you remember what
do you remember what we
do you remember what we did
do you remember how
do you remember how we left
do you remember how we left the door open?

* * *



Everything Means Something To Me
 (5.8M mp3) - Mon Jan 10th.
I won't fight the candlelight ~ kettle's on but all's not right ~ hear your voice but heard you're gone ~ that can't be your voice is on ~ wait a sec -- I know that song: ben affleck or matt damon? ~ unknown guys with knowing script ~ voice seems strong but ill-equipped ~ I could swear I know these lines
gentle singer's northwest whines ~ songs with shadows stains and signs ~ is it possible to blame slim's ironic label name ~ who thought you'd be built then spilled ~ hunting's darling rockstars killed ~ can't explain the circumstance ~ at least celine was trained to dance ~ margaret said you’re pre-disposed ~ heart wide open, case is closed

everything means something to me

I won't shed a drunken tear ~ drown my loss in corporate beer ~ though you're gone it's like you're here ~ there's your voice, it's on the air ~ in that soundtrack, everywhere ~ keep your needle, keep your hay ~ nothing left to sing or say ~ none could hold a light to you: courtney, kurt, or mary lou ~ you'll join heaven's greatest band or play hell's endless one night stand ~ trade in all your songs for knives and empty words of wasted lives

everything means something to me

The Flat Horizon
(5.3M mp3) - Sun Jan 9th.
don't believe in me
don't believe in you
don't believe in what we do
don't believe in you
don't believe in me
don't believe in what I see
don't believe in land
don't believe in sand
don't believe the earth is round
don't believe in rocks
don't believe in shocks
don't believe in solid ground

one foot on a wave
one foot in the grave
one hand wipes an eye
one hand waves goodbye

who is here to hear these prayers
who will help to dry these tears
make some sign if you’re here

* * *



(5.3M mp3) - Thurs Dec 30th.

One of five improvised song sketch skeletons recorded this afternoon with special guests Greg Meredith and Paul O'Rear.

skel·e·ton (noun)

1. internal structure composed of bone and cartilage that protects and supports the soft organs
2. a supporting structure or framework
3. an outline or a sketch
4. something reduced to its basic or minimal parts
5. one that is very thin or emaciated

1. of, relating to, or resembling a skeleton
2. reduced to the basic or minimal parts or members: a skeleton crew
3. computer science - of or relating to a set of incomplete instructions intended to be completed by a specialized program

1. skeleton in one's closet
2. a source of shame or disgrace, as in a family, that is kept secret

* * *

Rockwork (18.2M mp3) - Wed Dec 29th.

Replayed and reworked -- more than a minute shorter than the previous version -- still clocks in at 13'.  Picking up where the Seattle Guitar Circle group improvisation container "Nine Lives" left off, this long-form texture piece is designed to be evolving and unfolding background music to complement and inspire creative foreground tasks.

* * *


Backhome - Vocal Version (5.9M mp3) - Saturday December 18th

should I follow self-reliance
breadcrumbs or some secret science
is there something here that I am not able to see?
tell me should I take this farther
I'm not sure it's worth the bother
I don't want to make this harder than it has to be
or not to be

I need help to get backhome
need your love to get backhome

* * *

Backhome (5.1M mp3) - Friday December 17th
Going 'home' soon.

So, in anticipation, another Guitar Sketch about to become a song. Still working on vocals for Backward, and now this is pregnant with vocal melodies as well.

Of course, it is more difficult to 'sketch' with the voice -- the addition of words requires a deeper and more complex process in rendering something for public consumption -- even that which is billed as a sketch.

* * *


Backward (5.7M mp3) - Monday December 13th
Added the second coat. Those who know me know that everything means something to me.
"attention looking backward in a pool of water wishes with a blue songbird on his shoulder who keeps singing over everything"

back·ward (adjective)

1. directed or facing toward the back or rear
2. done or arranged in a manner or an order that is opposite to previous occurrence
3. unwilling to act, reluctant, shy
4. behind others in progress or development

'bend over backward' meaning, to make an effort greater than is required
'a backward view' meaning, contrary, unconventional

* * *


Backbone (5.6M mp3) - Sunday December 12th
back·bone (noun)

1. the vertebrate spine or spinal column
2. something, such as the keel of a ship, that resembles a backbone in appearance or position
3. a main support or major sustaining factor: the backbone of a thesis
4. strength of character; determination: displayed grit and backbone in facing adversity

Also, this is one take, the beginning of a sketch that will continue evolve over the next few days. This is the skeleton, the backbone of what may become a fully-clothed song.

* * *


Backlog (4.9M mp3) - Saturday December 11th


1. a reserve supply or source

2. an accumulation, especially of unfinished work or unfilled orders

3. a large log at the back of a fire in a fireplace

* * *

Taking my the recent pull-off practice to a new extreme. I conceived this imagining a future 8-12 piece LCG or SGC with uniform speed, finger strength, and hammering homework under their belt.

While not necessarily an excellent 'composition' this is a sort of satisfying throw-away novelty texture that frantically visits some nice corners.

* * *


Backspin (5.1M mp3) - Thursday December 9th
back·spin (noun)

1. A spin that tends to retard, arrest, or reverse the linear motion of an object, especially of a ball

* * *

Musically, this Lydian sketch is born out of some hammer-on and pull-off exercise that I've been working on for the past few weeks. There are actually two primary techniques at work here - the straight three and four string left-hand hammer-on and pull-offs. but on top, there is also a two-handed tap and pull technique that RF and the Gauchos were experimenting with in 1997 on the Chile GC course. I'd not quite found an appropriate setting to apply these short of novelty techniques that made sense. Until this sketch appeared.

The middle section is a sort of moody three-part invention that is designed to standalone, and then it repeats again (with some ornimentation on top of the spinning hammering on textures.)

* * *


Backfire (4.8M mp3) - Tuesday December 7th

back·fire (verb, intransitive)

1. to explode in the manner of or make the sound of a backfire

2. to start or use a backfire in extinguishing or controlling a forest fire

3. to produce an unexpected, undesired result

* * *

This sketch is built on the slapped reverse 7-beat-sequence of old League-standard 'Fireplace.' It also borrows the off-beat Fireplace chords, this time, played minor instead of the major 3rd of the original.

Like Fireplace, it also has a funky 7 groove that really comes to life about half-way through when the superfunk-feel really sets in (around 2' 05") and burns down the house.  


Backlash (7.8M mp3) - Monday December 6th
back·lash (noun)

1. a sudden or violent backward whipping motion

2. an antagonistic reaction to an earlier action

3. a snarl formed in the part of a fishing line that is wound around the reel

4. the play resulting from loose connections between gears or other mechanical elements

* * *

Again, this sketch begins slowly with an energized harmonic ambiguity, blurring the brick walls that separate consonance and dissonance.  The middle contains a bit of a major/minor fugue that eventually evolves into a sort of acoustic Shepard's tone (an endlessly rising or falling glissando illusion.)

* * *



Backspace (6.9M mp3) - Saturday Dec 4th

Slowing down after a long busy frenetic week. This sketch captures the pace of a typical Pelota Saturday afternoon of multi-tasking within unscheduled time at home -- although it begins slowly and gently, forces inevitably build up and the blood (and just barely consonant harmonies) begin flowing.

The name points to a feeling of wishing it were possible (and as easy as hitting a key on a keyboard) to undo or retype characters/words/actions of recent past.

* * *

Backbend (3.8M mp3) - Tuesday November 23rd

Begins with bass and guitar unison on a 'Jason and the Argonauts-esque' ascending/descending Lydian tetrachord melody, and then slowly bends and twists into a twangy chorus with a bad attitude.

 * * *

Backbeat (8.7M mp3) - Monday November 22nd

Inspired by a Bill Frisell show earlier this evening, I added drums to 'backdrop' (from Nov 1) effectively transforming it into 'backbeat.'

Also, I was (and am still) deeply moved and inspired by U2 on SNL doing their "I Will Follow" encore. These two events may impact my work for the next week (or month or year) or so. 

Tightrope (2.3M mp3) - Sunday November 21st

Crossing some chasms over the past two weeks. Occasionally on a tightrope, with no net.

cha·sm - noun

1. a deep, steep-sided opening in the earth's surface; an abyss or a gorge

2. a sudden interruption of continuity; a gap

3. a pronounced difference of opinion, interests, or loyalty

A few more to cross in the coming weeks.



Backstep (6.7M mp3) - Saturday November 6th

A slow and regal Lydian piano theme that captures a small flavor of the feeling I have about this period of work: confident, plodding, flowing but assertive and positive.

A few parallel fifths in the right hand, also poetically placed with care as gentle but conscious rebellion against that which is allegedly 'forbidden.'  A bit sophomoric, but so be it.  Also, an unresolved anti-cadence completes the picture. Note about most of these pieces: that which may seem dissonant or tense is meant to be.

The language of music, like all languages, is rich with subtlety, irony, depth, meaning, and context -- this non-verbal language possesses equal power to surprise, soothe, offend, and/or enlighten; depending both on the 'speaker' and the listener. 

Soundworks (19.9M mp3) - Thursday November 4th

This from June 2004, an improvisation (from session #7) at Premier Soundworks featuring Fernando Kabusacki, Fernando Samalea, Travis Metcalf, Derek DiFilippo, and SB.

What We Miss (6.1M mp3) - Wednesday November 3rd

What We Miss

Who says it's so easy to save a life? In the middle of an interview for the job you might get you see the cat from the window of the seventeenth floor just as he's crossing the street against traffic, just as you're answering a question about your worst character flaw and lying that you are too careful. What if you keep seeing the cat at every moment you are unable to save him? Failure is more like this than like duels and marathons. Everything can be saved, and bad timing prevents it. Every minute, you are answering the question and looking out the window of the church to see your one great love blinded by the glare, crossing the street, alone.

by Sarah Manguso, from The Captain Lands in Paradise. © Alice James Books.

( Poem forwarded by Pete Wilson. )

Backdrop (8.6M mp3) - Monday November 1st

Began with a gentle piano theme this evening, and then abandoned it when a five pattern showed up -- after some listening, I decided it sounded better on guitar. Then, two more quick takes on top of the first five, back-to-back, no editing except fades in and out, and out pops a new sonic 'backdrop' -- designed to drive and accompany a creative foreground activity.

Electric Gauchos - CD II
Mendoza, pt. 9 (4.4M mp3)
Nine days later, nine sections of a process that began exactly seven years ago, Parts I-IX, are now completed. End to end, there is 49'13" of remarkably coherent music, all improvised, from the first note to the last. Anyone who is both brave and with broadband might braid these nine segments together and get a pre-view of what the CD version will hold.

I take it as a given that the same people who may very well appreciate my recent previous pretty piano presentations from past weeks may find these long, growling, ambiguous-third-riddled all-electric-guitar-and-drum explosive electric explorations challenging, unlistenable, or boring. For me, hearing this unfolding intelligent dialog between four guitars + drummer, all speaking in -- and more importantly, listening to -- the same language, and seeking the same end, is both vital and energizing.

Mendoza, pt. 8 (7.35M mp3)

These nine improvised Themes and Variations continue to evolve and unfold before my eyes and ears. In the home stretch now.

One approach I've been using as a guide in mixing:

Mendoza = Music for 18 Musicians x The Intercontinentals x Metal Machine Music

Mendoza, pt. 7 (14.7M mp3)

I experience the process of this this work much like painting -- I'm barely aware of the effect these colors and shapes and meanings and messages may have on an observer (who is, by definition, in a future time and place from the one in which it's being rendered) -- but this interaction is not what drives or motivates or 'validates' the work.

Mendoza, pt. 6 (7.9M mp3)

Part six is a reintegration into the world: people enter the scene. Within this, the musicians deliver a driving persistent theme undisturbed by waves of distraction, indifference, and ambiguity. The major third will not stay down: it keeps poking up from beneath the noisy business busy-ness buried beneath the mundane ambient chatter of the outside world.

This Electric Gauchos songtile photo by Ingrid Pape-Sheldon.

Mendoza, pt. 5 (4.3M mp3)

Getting even moodier as we approach and pass through the middle. This is really the great divide of the whole shebang, beginning with a burst of enthusiasm that eventually peters out into a musical metaphor of doubt, searching, and a dissonant loss of connection with where this melody began, and where it is eventually going.

Mendoza, pt. 4 (15.9M mp3)

Now, really getting into the deep heart of this improvisation.

Much of my work over the past year with the Seattle Guitar Circle was inspired and informed by these improvisations. Very little was said for these Electric Gauchos sessions; we showed up, plugged-in, and played. This nine part sequence that is unfolding one day at a time in this "Music Diary" unfolded in real time, live in the studio, almost exactly as I'm presenting it here -- all I'm doing in 'production' is mixing (making each individual instrument sound good relative to the other instruments) and discovering the natural transition points.

Mendoza, pt. 3 (9.4M mp3)

This third 'major/minor' theme appears and also re-appears in part six of this nine part improvisation.

Mendoza, pt. 2 (5.6M mp3)

If you look closely at this picture in the songtile below, you can see a truck in the distance heading straight for the group. Life on the road in Argentina can be dangerous.

Part II presents the primary contrasting voice to the three main themes.

Mendoza, pt. 1 (3.9M mp3)

Tonight, beginning to mine the hour+ studio improvisations by Electric Gauchos, recorded in Buenos Aires, almost exactly seven years ago, in October of 1997 featuring Christian de Santis, Fernando Kabusacki, Martin Schwutke, and myself on electric guitars, and Fernando Samalea on drums.

Part I articulates the primary themes of this piece.

Daily Improvisations
Moons of Jupiter (3.2M mp3).

Another two-minute sketch, another product of Tuesday evening with Paul O'Rear featuring a brief but meaty planetary improvisation sailing on top of Pat Mastelotto's formidable Space Craft.

Rings of Saturn (4.6M mp3).

Tonight, a three-minute sketch, the product of an evening with Seattle Guitar Circle guitarist and bass playing monster Paul O'Rear. We improvised these psychedelic rings on top of some wicked Pat Mastelotto bashing.

A worthwhile evening.

Aspersion (2.7M mp3).

Another two-minute sketch, reflecting on the beautiful ambiguity and supposed contradictions in this definition:

as·per·sion - noun

1. a. An unfavorable or damaging remark; slander: Don't cast aspersions on my honesty. b. The act of defaming or slandering.

2. A sprinkling, especially with holy water.

Much That is Not Said (2.9M mp3).

I set myself the challenge this evening of quickly writing and recording a two-minute piece -- this time parameter is such because I'm physically under the weather and I began my daily Music Sketch after 9pm.

Mining the Archive
South Central Rain (4.0M mp3)

unreleased track, recorded during the SB Box Set sessions in 2003. Also includes SBRS core team with Travis Metcalf and Travis Hartnett on guitars. This song was part of SB Roadshow live repertoire in 2001-2003, originally brought to the group by TravisH. This version was cut from the final CD partially for both space and quality considerations, and partially because it did not quite fit into the overall flow.

Dark (Greenthumb Instrumental Version) (3.1M mp3)

From the CD Greenthumb recorded by 'Greenthumb' in Buenos Aires in 1996 and 1997 featuring Martin Schwutke, Fernando Kabusacki, Guillermo Olivera, Christian de Santis, Horacio Pozzo, Claudio Lafalce, Martin de Aguirre, Luciano Pietrafesa, Pablo Mandel, and Marcelo O'Reilly for 1999's GreenthumbCD. This time, the end section features Christian de Santis and myself exchanging 'call and response' bass solos on top of the circulated 'piano' appregios where half of the group is playing the fast on-beats, and the other half is playing the fast off-beats.  This piece is also significant in that it introduced the first performed and recorded form of "Group Loops" -- these can be heard distinctly in the second verse, around 1:14 seconds in to the piece. In this case, the instruction was that each player was to, in the moment, 'write' and perform their own part on top of the original bass and chords -- after each player had found their 'complementary' part, then you can hear two of these parts at a time 'circulate' in and out in pairs underneath the second verse.

Greenthumb (Instrumental) (5.3M mp3) from the CD the Breathing Field. This version was recorded by the group who performed under the name 'Greenthumb' in Mendoza and Buenos Aires in 1996 and 1997 featuring Martin Schwutke, Fernando Kabusacki, Guillermo Olivera, Christian de Santis, Horacio Pozzo, Claudio Lafalce, Martin de Aguirre, Luciano Pietrafesa, Pablo Mandel, and Marcelo O'Reilly for 1999's the Breathing Field CD.

The end section features Horacio Pozzo and myself exchanging 'call and response' solos on top of Christian de Santis' rock solid bass line. This take, recorded at Martin Schwutke's Puyerredon flat in 1996, is and remains one of the highlights of my recording experiences.

Spectacle (Instrumental) (4.3M mp3)

From the CD the Breathing Field.
This is another example of my practice of clothing a song in multiple radical arrangements over the years. The piece was originally conceived on May 12, 1988 during the first Guitar Craft course in France (with help from Victor McSurely), then it evolved into a Prometheus song in 1992-1994 featuring rocking rhythm section provided by Nigel Gavin and Pat Mastelotto, and finally captured as originally conceived for 1999's the Breathing Field CD.

Production Note: This version was recorded by R. Chris Murphy in my Medina living room where Chris and I were house-mates for a period during 1996-99. This was recorded with excellent compressors and microphones. Can you tell?

Ballistic (7.2M mp3)

From the CD of the same name. Features Steven Rhodes on bass with drum loops from the Jan Pulsford / Cyndi Lauper session we did at MS Studios in summer of 1997 as part of MSN's interactive music video show, Rifff.

Daily Improvisations
The Idea Department (2.8M mp3) - Thursday October 7
SB: Piano
Inspired by mail from David LaVallee
Sent: Thursday, October 07, 2004 10:53AM
To: Steve Ball
Subject: apropos quote?

"In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses."
— Marshall McLuhan (1911 - 1980)

Descend to Ascend (10.4M) - Wednesday October 6
SB: Guitars

Written for the Seattle Guitar Circle, July 2004 including a re-orchestrated ascending 'fracture' exercise by Robert Fripp that was floating around in 1996 in Buenos Aires during the second and third GC courses in Argentina.

The piece, like many of my Guitar Circle compositions, is 'inclusive' -- that is, it is explicitly designed to simultaneously challenge, inspire, instruct, and engage players of all levels, from complete beginners to allegedly 'advanced' players. The initial pensive contrary motion of the descending melody against the rising five arpeggio eventually evolves into the energetic ascending fracture theme that mirrors my own experience of what it takes to move from the sacrifices of the beginning to a desired ascension that may or may not come within an intentional process. 


Vise President (5.8M) - Tuesday October 5
featuring SB, the Seuitar Cir
SEGC here includes Greg Meredith, Paul O'Rear, Joel Palmer, Sandra Prow, Taylor Sherman, Lee Silberkleit, and SB on improvised Electric Ebow Guitars.

This textural soundbyte was inspired by the Vice Presidential debate, an event that was full of activity, noise, sharp percussive exchanges against the backdrop of an the unsettling, vaguely dissonant, mostly invisible soundtrack of the day to day lives that are affected by these men and the real repercussions of their ideologies.

My own overwhelming impression from this debate was one of heavy walls closing in on Dick Cheney as his spun 'misleadings' spewed-out all over the airwaves.

Fireplace (w/ scratch vocals) - Saturday October 2
featuring Fernando Kabusacki, Christian de Santis, Martin Schwutke, SB, on Electric Guitars and Fernando Samalea on drums. This song was born in 1988 when I was living in Brookline Mass sharing a small Fairbanks St. apartment with New Man singer, Scott Gilman. I vividly remember the moment this piece was born -- I was practicing with a Digitech 8 second delay on a Monday evening, and the 'seven' bass lines arrived and fit perfectly within the loop time that was already pumping away. The off-beat sus-4 alternating major then minor reggae chords were also born within the first two minutes of that original loop. These vocal melodies and lyrics flowed right out in full that evening as well, although the piece itself first became an instrumental staple within the League of Crafty Guitarists for the next three years. The LCG arrangement was also the first LCG piece that incorporated use of an improvised large-group circulation on top of a set composition - a radical idea at the time, now a commonplace technique in GC ensembles. A vocal version almost landed on 1994 Prometheus CD, however, it did not quite fit in with the rest of the ultra-prog material, and Sanford dropped it from the final mixes. As an act of 'completion', I decided to add the vocals on top of this Electric Gauchos instrumental arrangement.  While certainly not a 'perfect' rendering, it captures the flavor of the original song and Cindy Crawford-inspired lyrics.
3 Mile Smile (4.3M) - Friday October 1

Extending the theme of 'faces' from the previous day's work, this is a photo of the incredible face of Odin, son of my cousin Andrew. It captures a hint of the spirit and optimistic energy I was feeling while listening to a complex, but completely organic Gentle Giant giant fugue early in the day. 

In this picture, Odin appears as if he is about to burst with joy - a constantly and readily available state I regularly encounter in practicing and writing and listening to music. 

Debate (4.4M) - Thursday September 30

This image, like this improvisation, was inspired by the high-contrast, overly-saturated exchanges between candidates in tonight's presidential debate. My impression of the event was that these men represents two mouths that are connected to different sides of the same giant institutional brain.

This unsettling improvisiation begins with empty, filtered, repetitive, distorted, out-of-phase echoes of shadows of fuzzy olestrated memories of clichés, building to a huge and hollow climactic resounding nothingness.

The theme itself repeats twice, and is made up of diatonic octaves where each note is played in the time according to it's position in the scale. The root is played on every beat, the second, on every second beat, third on every third, fourth on every fourth beat, etc. up the full minor scale.

The Missing Lens (7.3M) - Monday September 27

“What strikes me most about organizations is their regularity – the same scenarios keep happening again and again in the widest variety of settings – manufacturing, high technology, religious institutions, schools, community groups, government agencies, universities. The same patterns keep showing up, but rarely do people feel that they are living out a pattern. Each event seems very specific to their unique organization, circumstances, and people. It matters little that all over the world, many thousands of people in all varieties of organizations are having the same experience. The lens we are missing is a systemic one. We don’t see systems, we just see people. We don’t see system spaces, we only see the effects spaces have on us. So when things go wrong, we blame what we see.” - In the Middle by Barry Oshry

This reflective improvisation is inspired by and meant to be a representation of that active tension that drives harmony between the bottoms (bass) and tops (high melodies.)

New Hope (6.1M) - Sunday September 26

This improvisation is blatantly inspired by Rick Wakeman's appearance, commentary, and playing in the recently released Bob Moog documentary. The 'new hope' in this for me is represented by my own reconnection to the piano after years of focus on work with guitars.

As this image rather unsubtly suggests, there is something 'green' and growing reflected in the sides of the piano keys.

Middleness (13.7M) - Saturday September 25

"Middleness is not a position; it is a condition. It is a condition all of us experience at various times and in varying degrees, in what ever position we are in, where we are at or near the top, on the bottom, or in the middle of the organization hierarchy.

Middleness is the condition in which we exist between two or more individuals or groups; these groups have differing priorities, perspectives, goals, needs, and wants; and each of them exerts pressure on us to function on its behalf." -- In the Middle by Barry Oshry

A textural analogy to that condition of being in the middle; teetering on instability and balancing only occasionally resolving dissonances with feverish activity between the piercingly sharp and demanding highs and slow and steadily plodding lows.


When the Money's Gone (3.4M) - Sunday September 19

That's Brock Pytel on drums demonstrating his excellent, pure, and essential pop sensibility. Steven Rhodes on Bass. Me on acoustic guitar and vocals. At one point, I thought Curt Golden had played electric guitar on this as well, but I don't hear him in this mix? This may have recorded before the four of us rehearsed and recorded some demos as a band for a few months in 1999? Either way, interesting to hear this snapshot demo from 1999 in light of my recent daily recording projects.

This song was the first song I wrote in SBST (Steve Ball Standard Tuning, or alternatively SB Song Tuning, CGDADG: fifths on the bottom, fourths on top.) I discovered and adopted this tuning and it became my std 'song' tuning beginning in winter of 1991 soon after Karen and I moved (back) to Brookline in late Dec 2001 after three years of being based at Claymont Court in WV during the psuedo-famous three-year LCG world tour. The lyrics and this song are a reflection of real struggles in my own life regarding children, and our role(s) in the sacrifices and decisions that enable their delivery into the world. 

Remembering the Future (7.6M) - Friday September 17

This photo is from a two week Summer Art camp that I attended in 1978 at the Allerton House just outside Champaign Urbana, Illinois. I was given a scholarship based upon my early and growing affinities for art, cartooning, and drawing. The purpose of the retreat was to give aspiring high-school students an opportunity to work immersively with and learn from University Art faculty that we students might one day follow-through and come back to undergraduate art study.

Musically, this texture has two segments: the first half is a moody pulsing, hormone-driven sonic wallpaper arranged for flirting piano and acoustic guitar; the second half is a slower un-resolving, chordal follow-up that reflects the early relationships initiated, but delayed by cross-country distances and twenty-six years.  

The Energy Economy (13.7M) - Thursday September 16
The idea of ‘economy’ is perhaps easier to grasp when dealing with physical things, like, say money. Food is pretty easy: this sushi is worth about $15. Pretty easy to measure value just after a meal as the check arrives. It gets harder when applying it to intangibles. However, the same principles apply. What does it ‘cost’ to get up one hour earlier every day to practice before work? What does it ‘cost’ to trade that early morning hour for one hour less of evening relaxation or socialization or television? What does it ‘cost’ to believe you have enough skill, talent, and determination to be ‘successful’ at whatever you take on? What does it ‘cost’ to go to a meeting? What does it cost to let go?

Musically, this is one of the 'driving' improvisations that came out of Electric Gauchos studio work in June 0f 2004. Taking the 'driving' analogy further, around the same time this was recorded, I also became intrigued by the idea of using of "Electric Gauchos" on a sort of "inner-state" road sign giving us some indication of where we are and where we could be going -- of course, the road chosen depends upon who (if anyone) is driving.

The Airport Exercise (10.5M) - Sunday September 12
There was a period of my life when I made it a priority to carry my guitar with me everywhere I traveled so I could practice in every nook and cranny of the day that would open up. It was as if very minute mattered.

One place I love to practice is in airports. While some may dread the idea of hanging out at airport gates, bored with the constant hurry-up-and-waiting, I actually delight if there is a delay or disruption that means I have an extra half-hour, hour, or half-day to sit in a secluded corner of the waiting area and practice without the distractions and interruptions of home or work. Speaking of work...

This is another sketch in a growing Exercise Series, this one, arrived in the year 2000, a year during which I spent a great deal of time in airports. This quick arrangement, as I listen back now, is actually quite moving. Especially considering the other kinds of horrors have been going on in airports over the past few years.

The Tetrachords (9.7M) - Saturday September 11

A new warm-up that appeared in June has evolved into a an intro piece for the (SGC Sakya Monastery) show. In addition to being an inclusive and efficient right and left hand warm up, it passes through the five primary 'tetrachords' (four note patterns made up of combinations of half and whole notes) while visiting the three triad inversions (with sevenths for those who can reach them) across four different keys. It is both a visceral and intellectual workout (esp if you say the note names silently too.) And it's extremely musical, for me, even emotionally engaging. It appeared on one relatively bleak sleep-deprived Thursday morning when I woke up early to practice in the cement hallway at work.

Sometimes the "why am I doing this?" practice-question answers itself.

In the fourth cycle there is a slow ascending melody that is designed to be a sort of mood elevator that keeps going up and up and up even as the 'floors' below change their tonal orientation.

Rockwork (19.7M) - Wednesday September 8

Rockwork is a textural sketch designed to be engaging background music. Musically, the main piano theme explores a technique I used in the end section of the Prometheus version of
Dark where the left hand plays a pattern in one time on the off beats, and the right hand plays a pattern another time on the on beats -- in Dark, it's two against three, in Rockwork, it's three against four. 

The end section of Rockwork morphs into a slower complementary sort of regal coda that, frankly, in terms of artistic license, owes much to the Köln concert.  This piece is also rather long by most modern Attention Deficit Disorder standards. Also, in retrospect, I probably should have recorded it with a metronome, however, it's perhaps useful to remember that not everyone listens with an eye on metronomic precision. Also, all of the music presented here is meant to be quick sketches --leaving in the rough lines and smudges is part of the deal.

Knotwork (5.2M) - Monday September 6

This arrangement is another example of my ongoing practice of redressing one composition in various radical 'outfits' over time. This one is pretty dramatically different than the acoustic guitar trio version that TravisM, DerekD and I arranged and recorded for the SB Box Set.

The idea of 'knotwork' is embodied in much of what I do: following twists and turns of overlapping paths and processes, trusting that there is an emerging and balanced design unfolding, despite the occasional radical angles and ups and downs that come with hitting then creatively crossing the 'barriers' of past and future paths.

Lockwork (4.2M) - Sunday September 5

This piece began with the idea of building three one minute ascending and descending patterns that lock together harmonically as they simultaneously rise and fall. The descending line may or may not be obvious on first listen, but it's actually a rather well-known series of notes. Try singing along with the descending line -- it's a bit of an aural illusion.

My goal with this was to feel what it's like to be going two places at the same time (or passing through multiple worlds at the same time; the final chord(s) land with some ambiguity in both.) I'm not sure how well this piece works toward this aim, but humming along with the descending line certainly pushes me closer to that experience.

Each of the three one minute themes, although harmonically identical, also has it's own increasingly energetic orchestration.

Shockwork. (4.9M) - Friday September 3

I hear this as one of the more complex and moody improvisations I've ever played. Part of it comes from being loosely built on one of the more unusual polyrhythms, 4 against 5. For me, the phrasing and generally diatonic harmonic movement keeps this sketch both approachable and listenable despite the potential' math problem' that some listeners may feel with polyrhythmic music. 

The idea of 'shockwork' also intuitively resonates with both my formal Electrical Engineering and Guitar Craft education(s.)  For me, this subtle piece and it's associated glowing haywire transformer image somehow unify the various solar systems of my complex and and seemingly light-year-separated interests.

Clockwork. (5.5M) - Thursday Sept 2

This is another textural exploration in five with some harmonic surprises that weave together to paint a quietly evolving striking sonic image. A satisfying sketch.

Chinoise (8.9M) - Wednesday Sept 1

This began as a percussive chord cluster experiment for piano that was designed to reflect the flavor and feeling of the Asian cuisine that I had eaten the hour before I sat down to play. I went back later and added the harpsichord-like guitar part to invite in some tonal contrast. My favorite part of this sketch is the climbing staccato arpeggio left-hand bass piano line that was exciting to discover and v. satisfying to play while my right hand was continuing to independently pump out clusters on top. 

The syncopated bass phrase returns again at around 4 minutes before the lighter fortune cookie ending tops off the meal.

Sun Dial (4.7M) - Tuesday August 31

The first section is cloudy w/ light rain -- followed by a break in the clouds caused by entrance of a giant hand that slowly turns the venture-funded Sun Dial. Eventually, our giant star peeks out and shares its ultraviolet warmth, bringing with it endless frolicking, lawn control, dangerous water sports, Raybans, peeling brown skin, and of course, melanoma. Those with fair skin, duck and cover.


Flight Path. (5.2M) - Monday August 30

Tonight I realized I live in a significant Fightpath. I've recognized this before, but this evening this fact was drawn into greater relief as I came home at 8 and recorded this piece with two microphones, including the one that I thought I had lost at the Town Hall show. (Found it Derek!) This is one take, take one, then xfered, named, encoded, songtiled, and uploaded.

Wondering what it would be like to record one short piece like this per day over a very long period of time, say one year? Now that would be, more precisely, an actual 'musician's diary.'

This event, and associated question is what gave rise to all of the music and background posted on this page.