celebration day – led zeppelin live at the o2 arena – ahmet ertegun tribute concert

as a long-time fan of the mighty led zeppelin, I felt I owed it to myself to see how the band did after ageing ever so slightly.

the best way to do this nowadays is probably to go see “celebration day” – the film of the o2 arena show in london, the ahmet ertegun tribute concert – so last sunday, that’s what we did.  we could have waited for the DVD, but for some reason, I liked the idea of it being shown in a theatre, as if the ghost of the band was going on the road for one more tour of britain…

and to be truthful, also, to compare how they play in the film, with my own distant internal memories, of how they played “back in the day”.  in fact, the very, very first concert I ever went to, was led zeppelin at the san diego sports arena, in may 1973.  to this day, it’s still the loudest show I’ve ever been too, but also, one of the best rock shows I’ve ever been to, if I am honest.

I “grew up” with three huge guitar influences: hendrix, clapton, page.  this was the beginning of the “rock” phase of my teenage guitar playing years, and I dedicated myself to learning everything I could from these three – that funny riff in cream’s “politician”, that great high speed 8 note/7 note riff in e major, and descending solo, near the end of page’s masterpiece, “dazed and confused”, the odd almost middle eastern sounding lead solo of hendrix’ “purple haze” – all of these were studied and played and studied more and played…

after my starting point in music, the beatles, took up the time from when I was 9 until I was 13, when I reached that age – that’s where my real education in guitar started, at age 13, and for a couple of years, hendrixclaptonpage was really all there was to me.  I didn’t really “need” more – because these three were all deeply rooted in the blues (although eventually, over time, others DID begin to find their way in to the picture – billy gibbons, johnny winter, duane allman…).

I spent hours and hours and hours dissecting every solo and sound I possibly could.  with the most primitive effects known to man, I tried to make my guitar sound like that of my heroes.  a second-hand arbiter fuzz face, a vox wah-wah, a tape echoplex – that was about it, that’s all you had, and all you really needed.

I learned huge chunks of “led zeppelin I” by heart.  I struggled to emulate the beautiful blues in c minor that is “since I’ve been loving you” from the third album.  also from that album, the band I was in at the time, “pyramid” – well, we did a lot of unusual zeppelin covers, from “tangerine” on up to very, very complex works like “ten years gone” (boy did I ever struggle to learn those solos!) as well as (but not limited to) “good times, bad times”, “dazed and confused” or “the rover”.

later, in my next rock band (name unknown!), we played things like “the ocean” which is a hugely fun zeppelin song to play…

from “led zeppelin I”, after months of work, I could pretty much play the whole album from heart (as well as any 15 year old boy could play the solos of a guitarist he really, really admired!) – especially the lead solos from “good times, bad times” and “dazed and confused” – those were my specialities – I would take a crack at “communication breakdown” or “how many more times” sure enough, but “good times” and “dazed and confused” – now THOSE were the page solos that I wanted to understand and be able to play.

I think I did realise, even then, that page’s genius was a flawed genius, and in seeing this film yesterday (a very limited run of exactly two showings in our local stirling theatre) I think I can now understand some of the reasons why.

certainly, I could tell that in live performance, in the 70s, that page was a little bit…erratic.  sometimes, he was amazing, sometimes, he seemed quite…lost. or maybe “sloppy” is the word I don’t quite want to say.  when compared to my other two early heroes – well, hendrix also had problems in live performance, while clapton seemed to have it much more together as far as live performance went.

in the studio – where time is no object – page’s work with led zeppelin just got better and better (at least, until bonham’s death – after which, the band really just lost all heart – and who could blame them?) – in the studio, as always, jimmy was the master.

so why was there this slight edge of sloppiness in live performance?  I was fortunate enough to see the band play three times back in the day; once, my first concert ever in 1973, and then twice in one week, back in 1975.  and – they were amazing live, loud, fun, brilliant – fantastic.

fast forward then to the concert at the o2, so many years later – and even worn with time, they still sound great.  do not get me wrong – if you love led zeppelin – you will enjoy this film.

after my two years of almost exclusive hendrix / clapton / page listening and learning, as I matured, I started listening to more capable guitarists: zappa / fripp / belew became the new triumvirate, and prog, the new amazing music to strive towards….

years later again, I had a taste of the discipline of guitar craft, which drew attention to a lot of, curiously, jimmy page like habits of my own.  so all that prepared me for the strange but obvious relevation, the obvious reason why jimmy page is a little bit erratic in live performance:

he plays with just three fingers.

only once during the entire film (during which, there are a lot of great close ups of the fret work, which is brilliant!) did I see him use his fourth finger, and I think that was almost by accident.

I watched him playing these amazing solos, that I had grown up with and loved, and all those amazing heavy riffs – with three fingers.  I also feel that this is the same problem that hampers todd rundgren – who also, if you watch the films, seems to play mostly with three fingers.

one quarter of your vocabulary – gone. the other problem that adds to the problem is…facial expressions.  in guitar craft, this was identified for me as an issue – the fact that I was putting so much energy into pulling “rock and roll” faces, contorting my jaws and so on – that there was little energy left to play the guitar well.  I actually agree with this – it really can detract from your ability to concentrate.

and the problem for mr. page, to my mind was – I thought, my god, I would struggle to play ANY of those solos, if I were forbidden the use of my fourth finger.  some of the solos were incredibly awkward, with page barely able to hit the notes (because he was running out of fingers!) – because…he was only using three of his four fingers to fret!

it was maddening to watch, because I could see that he was making it far more difficult than it needs to be – if he had worked out the fingering using all four fingers – playing those solos, and those riffs – would have been much much easier to play! – both at the o2, and in his entire career as a guitarist…

I would say the same for todd, too, who is a brilliant guitarist; an absolute wizard in the studio – but live – and I’ve seen him many, many times – he can be all over the place – although his facial expression problems are nothing as bad as jimmy page’s are.

in hindsight, everything is 20/20, and in a way, who cares if they only play with three fingers – they are still great guitarists, playing great material, awesome riffs and awe-inspiring solos – and some of page’s solos, both in the 70s and at this one-off benefit concert for ahmet ertegun – were absolutely amazing

however, interestingly, a lot of the interesting things about page’s style that attracted me as a 15-year old guitarist – now, at the o2 concert, seemed to me to be the biggest weaknesses!  for example – the violin bow bit in “dazed and confused” – I loved that when I was a teenager, and yes, I had a violin bow, and I played that solo – and I played versions of the solo inspired from hearing live led zeppelin recordings – so I could play it studio or live – that bit seemed so clever and so inspired.

at the o2, it just sounded…lame.  pointless.  not inspiring, not clever, it just didn’t sound that good!  and I used to love that back in the day…

another example of this – is the wild theremin solo during “whole lotta love”.  again – if you just listened – it didn’t sound that good.  it looks great – but it doesn’t actually work as music. back in the day, a visual and sonic highlight – now, a sonic disaster that still looks fairly cool – but musically void.

I hope this means that I have matured, that these somewhat…sensational, theatrical elements just don’t have the impact on me that they used to.  that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them – I just didn’t enjoy them as much as I used to…

I don’t want to give the impression that the film is bad.  quite the contrary.

it’s really quite amazing, although I do believe I could detect a fair amount of re-amping (i.e. additional effects added to parts of or to entire guitar solos after the fact – for example, when page was 20 feet from the pedal board, suddenly, his guitar “grew” a really detuned chorus…hmmm…) going on in page’s solos, and possibly, additional effects for plant’s voice too.  I hope I am wrong, but the three-year delay (or however long it was) from performance to film release, makes me think that page took some time to…uh…”improve” the sound of the band.

as far as john paul jones and jason bonham go – in my opinion, there was no “re”-anything needed; bonham is so like his dad it’s uncanny, and his playing is simply superb.  rock steady when it’s supposed to be, on up to a “keith moon-like” blur of rolling, cymbal crashing mayhem/madman/insanity…

powerful. accurate. a rock drummer to die for – and the only possible “replacement” for bonzo.

and jason has another very, very useful skill in a band that traditionally, only really had one singer – he can sing.  on a couple of numbers, he would don his headset, and without missing a beat, he would sing perfect harmony to robert plant’s lead vocals.  this made a huge, huge difference to the sound of those songs, and was a crucial element in “misty mountain hop” – a great tune, and the version here, with bonham junior on perfect john bonham drums and backing vocals – is a scorcher.  “what…what do you think I saw??”

jason’s singing added a whole new dimension to led zeppelin live – a led zeppelin that now suddenly has “vocal harmony” on stage!!!  sure, I know that jason’s dad did sing on “the ocean” and maybe on other live pieces, but jason was really doing the whole nine yards – impossibly difficult drum part, AND harmonising with robert plant – at once – live – no problem.

of course, though, it’s john paul jones who is, as has been said, “the revelation here” – and if you are not familiar with just how capable he is – you need to see him here – playing clavinet and bass pedals (yes, with his feet – a la hugh banton of van der graaf generator – those two are the only two who can use all four limbs to be both keyboardist and bassist – remarkable!) on “trampled underfoot” or electric piano and bass pedals on “no quarter” or mellotron and bass pedals on “kashmir”…

he’s calm, he’s assured – and he is simply, a brilliant musician.  his bass playing is absolutely assured, and he even takes a turn at fretless bass – no problem.  as we’ve seen from his solo career, too – the man can play anything.

as for the curly-haired lead singer – well, he sounds fuckin’ great.  he doesn’t try for the high notes so much (wisely) as finds another melody that works just as well. this is one of the best robert plant performances of any kind that I have ever seen, and he totally reinvents these stage-worn songs – I even enjoyed “stairway to heaven” primarily because robert sang it so beautifully here.  and I was totally burned out on “stairway” – from too much radio play back in the day – but this time, I actually almost enjoyed it again – and, nice to watch jimmy have a go at the “how fast can I switch between 12 string and 6 string” on his beautiful double necked gibson sg.  sigh.

the answer? pretty damn fast.

just prior to the big, final guitar solo, he’s playing the 12 string, and he plays a c major chord; then a c major chord with a b in the bass…and then, the song requires that on the next beat, that he hit the first note of the guitar solo – so he literally slams his arm down across the switch and hits that note on the 6 string RIGHT bang on time – I was really actually very impressed, because in the old “song remains the same version” – he played a few bars of chordal jamming BEFORE going to the solo, to give him time to switch – but not now, now, he plays it LIKE THE RECORD – and nails it – somehow.  and I really do love that final solo, it just rocks – I don’t think I enjoy any other version of the somewhat careworn “a minor, g major, f major” chord progression more – it’s in so, so many songs, from “all along the watchtower” all the way to “stairway to heaven” – but in the latter, it just rules.

so I found myself enjoying songs that I thought I disliked or was very tired of, and of the songs I liked, well, they did a LOT of those, and they did a lot of those…very, very well indeed.

I think that the secret of led zeppelin, well, not the secret maybe, but one of the main factors that makes this somewhat unlikely quartet “work” – is simply that the rhythm section are so tight, and so talented (don’t forget that john paul jones was the mature, “older” studio musician, producer and arranger even before page was, back “in the day”) that if robert or jimmy wander off-course a bit (and, we have to admit it, they sometimes do…) that – it doesn’t matter, because that anchor – that bass – those amazing bass drum pedals, those pounding toms – is rock solid.

not that robert or jimmy strayed far from the plot in this film, well, sometimes, jimmy absolutely did, to be honest, but he always ended up back where he belonged in the end.  they rehearsed for six weeks for one show (well, that’s what plant seems to be intimating in the film, anyway) which is quite a bit, really – but I think it still came down to skill, experience and professionalism more than anything else – there are bits of zeppelin songs that are almost entirely formless, and I could see that they had to work at cues, they had to figure out how to “climb back in” from that musical limb that they had crawled out on…

as far as the choice of material, mostly, it’s great, personally, I could do without “in my time of dying” because I’ve never really cared for it, so that might be the low point (and, if I am entirely honest, I don’t think that page on slide guitar really convinces – he’s not the best slide player in the world), but otherwise, the song selection was really good, a great variety of songs from just about every album, at least the first six albums – and there were some really important pieces of music in there too – such as “the song remains the same” which is a huge highlight for me personally, a very proggy moment for zep, but played brilliantly here (page is on fire, and the solos are almost incendiary – fast, exciting, and powerful – great 12 string – great vocal from robert – a fantastic performance)  – as well as rockers like “trampled underfoot”, “misty mountain hop”, “black dog”, and the final encore, of course, “rock and roll” – all those great songs from all those great albums…it was really quite something.

and yes, a really quite good version of “since I’ve been loving you” as well, with the amazing john paul jones on mock hammond b3 organ – and page, erratic but beautiful on that fabulous lead guitar part…

the fact that the final encore was “rock and roll”, it just strikes me now, really brings me full circle with my led zeppelin experience, because that was the FIRST song they played when I saw them at my first concert in 1973!!! over those 35 plus years, it had made it’s way from the start of the set to the end of the set – which kind of parallels my own journey with this amazing, amazing – but ever-so-slightly – erratic band.

if you are lucky like me, and you did see them in the 70s  – then this is a chance to see them fully mature, in some ways, more at the height of their powers when they were…at the height of their powers!

I love them, my partner and I both really, really enjoyed the film – we are both big fans of the band, and we both thought the film much, much better than we expected – and, it’s a full two hours + concert, so you can sit back and finally “see” – and hear – led zeppelin – loud and clear – if you missed them the first time around, having a really good go at their legacy of remarkable music – and what a catalogue it is – 10 amazing albums, and so, so many great songs – including some surprises…

for example, I never really used to care much for “ramble on” (I am not, in general, a big fan of led zeppelin II, if truth be told) but after the great opener, “good times, bad times” they then played a version of “ramble on” that I thoroughly enjoyed (which included a little bit of “what is and what should never be” at the end) – it worked really, really well live.

another song I didn’t think I would enjoy – but really did – was “nobody’s fault but mine” – with a much improved lead vocal, and some very, very tight riffing on that amazing high speed riff – with page, john paul jones, and bonham all working together in perfect harmony, a riffing monster machine – and page looking happy – reasonably healthy.

that jimmy page can play those solos with just three fingers is nothing short of amazing, I guess he never wanted to take the time to relearn how to play with four fingers – if I am honest, I mostly played with three fingers for my first 17 years of playing – and then, I learned how.  and now, I can’t imagine trying to play without all four fingers – I am not sure I can do it.  I would have to force myself NOT to use my fourth finger – like intentionally tying one hand behind your back before entering the fray…

but then, I guess if you are a songwriter and composer of the ability of a jimmy page or a todd rundgren, and, you can spend endless hours in the studio perfecting just the right lead solo for your sonic masterpiece – that it doesn’t REALLY matter if you play with three fingers.  but – think how good these guitarists might be if they DID play with four…

as writers, and in the studio, I don’t find much wrong with anything either guitarist has done (well, ahem, there are a few todd albums I could do without – TR-i, anyone??) – but live, well, it’s more difficult, so it was a bit of a shock to realise – that the reason that there is something “odd” about the way page looks when he plays – ah, so THAT is why! – when I noticed that he only uses three fingers on his fretting hand, to play the guitar during the film.  just like todd – and probably a fair number of other very accomplished guitarists, too…

but if you didn’t watch – you might not have known – because he PLAYS the solos, he makes it through – and it sounds good, most of the time.  some of the guitar solos sort of…fizzled out, or went nowhere a bit – but not often, and then, usually followed by something really beautiful or amazing – so I could forgive him a lot.

another really strong performance was “kashmir” – again, just being able to watch what john paul jones is doing – playing two keyboards, one with each hand, and bass with his feet – really is a revelation.  and you tend to forget – this music, at the time, well, there was nothing on earth quite like “kashmir” (and really, there never has been since!) – and as a song, it’s really stood the test of time – and the o2 performance is a brilliant one – perhaps one of the film’s very best moments.

for musicians aspiring to play the works of led zeppelin, this is a GREAT film, because there are lots and lots and LOTS of the kind of close-ups that rarely appear in films of bands – that you always wish were there so you could “see how they do it” – well, in this film – you can.

for example, I learned that I am not playing the piano part of “no quarter” quite right – so when I get the DVD, I can sit down and “fix it” – and by the way, that’s another real highlight, a fantastic rendition of a great song from a great album – and of course, it’s john paul jones at the helm completely, with jimmy doing his level best to play the very, very difficult lead guitar parts. one of plant’s best vocals of the show – when they hit that b flat ninth chord, and then move up to the e flat – I just get the shivers, what a beautiful chord progression…

“they’re wearing steel that’s bright and true…to build a dream for me and you”…

 

I recommend this film highly to all fans of led zeppelin, OK, they are not quite as young as they were the first time I saw them play, it is a shock to see jimmy page with pure snowy white hair – but given the lives they’ve led, they have aged reasonably well – and this concert still packs one hell of a punch (despite just how much time has passed since 1969!) – it rocks – and it’s a great part of the led zeppelin legacy, and I for one, am really glad that they got together to do this before it was too late.

if for nothing else, you owe it to yourself to see the john paul jones / jason bonham team at work, or rather, hear them – they are just nothing short of remarkable, and I knew that jason bonham was a good, good drummer, who knew his dad’s repertoire – but I was wrong about that – jason bonham is an amazing drummer, who knows his dad’s repertoire inside and out, and has actually built on it, added to it, added in his own personality – new rolls have appeared, new timings, new cymbal smacks – he’s taken his dad’s already amazing drum parts, modernised them a little, jason-a-fied them a lot – and it just rocks – and john paul john’s on the bass – he’s just sublime, he is effortless, and some of his bass parts are really, really tricky.

really though – all four of them sound great!  they really do – robert’s voice is in fine form, it’s not tired, or cracked, or strange – it’s just good – and his singing, his sense of melody is so much more mature and beautiful, it’s really good.  jimmy plays some blindingly good and very cool guitar, and it’s great to “see” these solos at long last – of course, I’ve seen some of them, I KNOW some of them, but you get really good close ups of a lot of parts that you haven’t “seen” before – and the rhythm section – well, we already know about them.

 

“celebration day” – which, ironically, they do not play at this concert (in fact, only one track from led zeppelin III makes it into the set list, “since I’ve been loving you”, which is such a shame – and – sadly – no acoustic set at all) is a really beautifully shot, clear and great-sounding record of an extraordinary concert – be there!

 

a fantastic way to spend a lazy sunday afternoon…

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…fast forward to week 5 of ‘scaping’…

I am in week 5 of scaping now, and I have just completed scape 785 in my latest session (much to my amazement – I mean, come on, how many other tools would let you capture 785 unique generative ambient compositions in under six weeks?).  it’s one of six variants, saved in six different moods, of a really interesting scape – no background, and, a set of randomly thrown out “E” shaped yellow note elements – this is a note that bends very strangely, and with about 30 of them in the mix, you get this wonderful, very fripp like dissonant cloud of bendy notes all blended together, arriving in dense, frippy-clusters of sound, and it’s so beautiful I could just listen to it forever.

fantastic notes…so bendy (up, down, sideways, every which way), so quizzical, so odd – so questioning.  never really resolving, just wandering in and out of the musical landscape in beautifully random clusters…

this is the single strangest scape I’ve ever made, it’s so dissonant, so random, the pitch is all over the place, yet, it’s so incredibly beautiful, too – I can’t quite come to terms with scape 785 !  at times, it fades out as the note clusters continue to collide and wander…fading almost to silence, then suddenly waking back up again, coming up to full volume one more time.

listening to this scape is kind of like drifting in and out of consciousness, it comes and goes, like a beautiful but strange dream that you are dreaming, which then goes away; – comes back – almost disappears; then re-appears, meanwhile, the note clusters get really strange, appearing at the oddest intervals, landing on top of each other, large spaces in between….it’s just one of the most unusual, and oddest, experiences I’ve ever had – and it took about five seconds to create.

I literally open the yellow note element area, grabbed the “E” shaped note, and dragged about 30 of them out into the workspace; randomly, onto the screen, totally at random – creating a jumble of notes filling most of the screen. no sense of order whatsoever, just randomly dispersed notes – but the overall effect, the sound of the resulting piece – is just wonderful.  sigh.

I am extremely pleased with this piece, although because of my backlog, and because this tool is so incredibly prolific, it may be a while before you hear this piece…I hope not too long.

lately, scapes have tended to be much more complex – although, sometimes I will still really strip things back and create some very sparse, minimalist scapes, because I now have so many tools, so many new backgrounds, new elements, I am always wanting to add in my favourites – a new descending arrowhead, the “quiet sun” bell, the buzzing two sided triangle/mountain, the new orange/blue mood – so quite a few of the last couple hundred or so have been very, very active pieces indeed.

I really wish there was a way I could instantly publish all 785 of my scapes onto the internet – I really do, because, having so far managed to put up just six of them, I feel very frustrated that you can’t hear the work I am doing right now – and, I am frustrated too that you can’t hear all the new sounds and sound combinations that I am coming up with, too.  all in good time as they say…

I began by publishing my first few scapes onto soundcloud, but of course with their two hour time limit, I am only maybe going to get 20 or so up there…so I decided, rather than add endless channels on soundcloud, to switch to youtube (leaving the soundcloud scapes up, of course!!!) – so for a while, there will be a parallel process – scapes will go up as audio to soundcloud, and as audio with some kind of “video” to you tube at the same time – but eventually, soundcloud will fill up, where as you tube will continue.

at this moment in time, scapes 1 through 7 are up on soundcloud; number 8 should go up tonight – while on youtube, since I started that project a bit later, just the first three are up; number four is ready to go up later today – and, I am working on the next three already as well, so I hope to get “caught up” soon….and I do just plan to continue as time permits – I will make very simple videos for the pieces (nothing fancy) and I will just keep uploading them to the purescapes channel on you tube – although other projects may mean that I have to take breaks from uploading scapes – but if I am able, I will always persist with this – this is one of the most remarkable collections of music I have ever recorded, but it’s also very frustrating, in less than five weeks, I have almost 800 pieces of music!!! it arrives so, so quickly, and so much of it is so, so lovely – but the quantity is staggering, and almost unmanageable in terms of recording and/or uploading the tracks – how long will it take me to make 785 scape videos, and then upload them?

and by the time I do – I will then have another 800 scapes recorded…and the cycle will never end!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever had an instrument that could create beautifully complete pieces of music, finished songs, at this incredible rate – it takes far longer to record them then it does to actually create them!

another thing that intrigues me about the app, something about scape that I am…unsure of…is the effect of visual symmetry on the sound output.  it does seem, that if I take a lot of time, and line up my objects into really beautiful symmetrical patterns, that the resulting sound of the scape is…more organised, more musical – than if I randomly disperse various elements without ANY sense of order or symmetry.  maybe.

but then something like scape 785 comes along, and knocks this theory on it’s head – a completely at-random, very hastily-assembled set of elements – with a beautiful output, as beautiful or more beautiful than the output of scapes that I spent far more time on, with lots of symmetry…so I just can’t tell – both very tidy, very carefully created scapes, and almost randomly created scapes – sound good!

so that theory is obviously no good, although I might say, that if you order your elements with precision symmetry, that this may make your scape sound particularly orderly and beautiful – possibly!   that’s about all I can say so far…

the other thing that really fascinates me about scape are the hidden, secret, internal “rules” – which for the life of me, I can’t really figure out any of!!!  events are triggered by events, actions taken based on how you set things up – but we really don’t understand much of it.

I’ve learned that you can create a scape that you like, and then save copies of it in “each” of the available moods. So for example, scape 785 is in the new orange/blue mood, however, I also saved it in several other moods, and, my ear can somewhat discern what those other moods “do” to the piece.

if I then shift to the “green” mood version of the same piece, scape 783, there is a different reverb, there is a short delay with several repeats, and the pitch of the notes is a few steps at least, lower.  so the same piece sounds quite “different” in green mood, but also it’s still recognisably the same piece.

if I then shift to the “pink/violet” mood version of the piece, scape 784, there is a much larger room reverb and a different short delay with a longer repeat – and the pitch is somewhere in between the pitch of the “orange/blue” and “green” moods.

but as far as the other “rules”, how instruments interact, what happens when you add a second bass note in, what happens when you “chain together” eight bells – I just don’t know.  and in a way, it doesn’t matter – because it works !! – they sound like pieces of music, as if composed by a human – but, they are in fact, generative – so only guided by a human.  I am, however, happy to be one of those human, to herd eno and chilvers’ samples into ever more sophisticated musical forms, in a seemingly endless variety of beautiful sound working with beautiful sound…

I can’t believe the intelligence and sophistication built into this instrument, it’s only the second generative tool I’ve tried over the years (I did work briefly with an early version of koan, but it was very, very primitive compared to scape), but I don’t know that I would want any other – until they come out with the frippertronics version, that is.  in the meantime…

happy scaping….

scape – week three – a new spoken language emerges…

another week with scape, the application…and somehow, not quite sure how, in such a short time, but I find to my astonishment that I now have no less than 502 scapes.

I hasten to add, though, that in a number of cases, if I ended up with a scape that I really, really like,,,that I might well save it multiple times – usually, selecting some or all of the different mood filters, so I can hear it in 7 or 8 different “ambiences” – or sometimes, I might leave the mood the same, and save it with different backgrounds or even combinations of backgrounds.

even so – even with these extra versions…there are still an astonishing number of unique, one of a kind scapes. what a remarkable instrument this is!!!

events this week, well, the usual musical ‘gifts’ have arrived – a new background, some new elements, and so on…and I find I look forward to their arrival with an almost childish delight…

two new elements have arrived in the “spiky blue elements” category, and these two are remarkable – one looks like the top of a music stand, the other, like an asterisk – but all of the blue spiky family of elements are especially cool – because they MOVE when they play back – they are animated!

these two in particular I am really liking, because I wasn’t sure about the first three in this series – they are a bit harsh, a bit more disturbing than any other elements to date. I really struggled to use those first three ‘spiky blues’ – I could and did manage to create interesting enough scapes with them, but – they are a bit…musically uncomfortable (??) compared to most. so it was with a bit of trepidation that I received spiky blue elements four and five – but I need not have been apprehensive.

In fact, unlike the first three, I think they are now becoming some of my very favourite elements of all – and I am living much more comfortably with the whole blue family of elements now as well. my initial discomfort is dispelled and I ‘get it’ now…

another really, really remarkable yellow note element also arrived, this one with the most amazing echo/delay pattern, vaguely something like a really clever delay set up by the edge, only using an eno synth sound instead of a guitar. it has a beautiful, pure tone, and if, for example, if you set just three of these into an empty mood – you get a really lovely cascading, echoing, delayed set of notes that I can just sit and listen to forever…

in fact, that element, and the last few elements (including the whole spiky blue element family!) have had really intricate, amazing delays – and used together, for example, a scape built with this new ‘the edge’ yellow note element and say, some spiky blue elements 4 and 5, yields a wonderful, cascading scape of great beauty,

then, the latest new element, an incredibly quiet, ambient and amazingly beautiful bass guitar sample – that again, on it’s own, just sound astonishing…this is a light grey coloured triangle with two vertical black lines in it – one of the most ambient of samples, has arrived right in the midst of all the dissonance and disturbance of the blue spiky family…fantastic!

last night, another new element made an appearance in the “bells” section, shaped and coloured uncannily like the sun in the painting which is the cover of phil manzanera’s band ‘quiet sun’, the album entitled ‘mainstream’…a really gorgeous delayed bell that I am now thinking of as ‘the quiet sun bell’…

which brings me to comment on eno’s strategy with this tool – everything is hidden. you can’t name your scapes, they are just automatically numbered, and the backgrounds, palettes, and elements don’t have names – so I find, as a user, that I have developed my own language to describe these musical objects. so where normally I might say ‘it’s a sort of basic sine wave synth sound with a lush and complex echo and delay’…

…instead, I find myself now saying “it’s one of the yellow note element family, a u-shape turned upside down, with a clear sine sound with a complex echo and delay…” so since there are no instrument or voice names, just elements represented by coloured shapes – the whole descriptive vocabulary of music changes – and it’s all about colour and shape, sound becomes almost secondary except as a point of reference – the bell sounds are all rounded, and all pinkish-red, where as the note sounds are all yellow, the bass sounds, all black, grey or white triangles – and so on.

when I write about scape, I find myself talking naturally in this strange new language, a scape language, and then I realise, probably, only another scape user will have any idea what I am going on and on about, when I talk about “spiky blue elements” – but if you are a user, you know exactly what I mean 😉

so – it’s been another brilliant week of scaping, a little uncomfortable during the early spiky blue element era, but it’s rounded out beautifully with all the amazing new tools that have arrived since then – and still, so much more to come – I cannot wait to see what will arrive next week…

keep on scaping…502 and counting 🙂

scape – week two – eno and chilvers’ masterpiece

well, I’ve now been working with scape for a couple of weeks, and I have to say, it’s been an absolutely remarkable experience.

I’ve never had a tool that “grows” as you use it, but scape not only grows but the new backgrounds, palettes, and elements that appear, just get better and better.

scape seems to be getting a very good reception, with some very positive press, such as this item from the guardian.

yesterday’s session was an absolutely mind-blowing one, with a new “spearhead” shaped tool appearing, that makes an incredibly complex synthesizer sound, and with the addition of this new tool, even though I am pretty sure there is quite a bit more to come – now, the scapes I can create, are just astonishing in their complexity.

and speaking of complexity – that’s one of three new “controls” that have recently appeared – “density” – “complexity” – and my personal favourite “mystery”.

I’ve always wanted a slider to control “mystery” – and now I have one.

 

new tools in the bass register are also a huge hit with me, and I can’t wait, each day, to press the “create new scapes” button and see what the next set of amazing tools will be.

this was already the most innovative ambient music creation tool I’ve ever used even in it’s basic, starting configuration.  I could have happily created many, many unique and beautiful scapes, ambient, sinister, active, strange, bizarre – with just the simple controls, backgrounds and sounds that I had during week one.  but each time you press the “create a scape” button – the app delivers more, new, and exciting, tools to you to use.

but now, now that I’ve been amazed over and over again at the new sounds and backgrounds that appear, I begin to realise just what a complex and clever creation scape is. this is fast becoming not just my favourite music application to create ambient music with, but in some ways, my favourite music application of ALL time.

using my own imagination, coupled with creating scapes based on eno and chilvers’ suggestions, I have, in two weeks time, created 146 individual scapes and several playlists, that, if recorded and played back in their entirety, represent many, many hours of music, and compositionally, for me, represent in some cases, what would equate to several complete albums of music – and all created in just two weeks of work, 30 to 60 minutes a day maximum.

 

and when I listen to scapes I’ve created, most of them work very, very well indeed, there are very few that I feel are “substandard”.  the scapes made in the last couple of days in particular, are so incredibly rich, complex and beautiful – and it’s not me, it’s the tool, of course – I am just putting the elements together, and then marvelling at the sound that comes out.

also – I find, I am starting to work visually.  creating landscapes, and not worrying about the sound until I am done, letting the vision of the elements drive what the sound is – and that’s a new experience for me.  I was always in control, I played THAT bass part or that synth or that guitar – with scape, you can just “paint” – just make pictures with mountains and the sun and notes hovering in the air…

I find myself creating scapes that are very…symmetrical, and those are often the most beautiful of all, but, even the most random visual effect can also translate into a piece of incredible beauty.  at one point, I created an empty backdrop, and then placed random sound objects in an ugly circle in the “air” – and it sounded really good.  so you can spend a long time, creating a beautiful painting, and get good results – or, work very quickly/randomly, and also get…good results.

I will say, I think the more I work on the visual aspect; the “better” the scape, but, even the most randomly created scapes still sound good.   sigh…

at this point in time, I am half of a mind to simply record each of my 146 scapes (note: now, over 200 scapes as of blog press time), and start loading them up to sound cloud, because I will never have the time, money or resource to bundle these amazing compositions into traditional albums.  and that would now be something like…20 albums.

I want people to hear scape, not so much for my compositions, but just to hear what it is capable of.

I do believe, that the scapes I’ve been creating, are working very, very well for a number of reasons.  the first and foremost, is the amazing, intuitive tool itself, and, the fact that you can “draw” a picture, and that then triggers an amazing piece of music…visually created music.  secondly, and important in my case – I’ve been creating ambient music myself since about 1989, and I really feel an affinity with this instrument, and it’s strange method of composition – as unique in it’s own way as “looping” was back in 1989.  I feel that my experience, makes me the right person to be using a tool like this, and I have worked very hard on my first 146 scapes, building them to the suggestions from the instruments’ creator; building scapes of my own design, but just flying, too, as I did in the looping days – you just push “record” and you go, and you start looping – and sometimes it works amazingly well, other times, you have to try again.

scape is no different, you start out with a blank palette, and you add elements.  usually, it works very, very well – occasionally, you have to scrap a scape and start over.  very occasionally.

so…in a way…scape is the looper of the “naughties”.  or is it the “tens”, now.

 

if you had asked me 18 months ago if I thought I was a likely candidate to be championing the use of ipad apps to make music with, I might well have laughed.  I am not laughing now – scape takes application music-making to a whole new level, and brian eno and peter chilvers, and opal, have done an AMAZING job with this “organically-growing-as-you-work” application.

just the idea that the app gives you oblique strategy-like “instructions”, the idea that, when you go to “create” – you are immediately rewarded with new, raw materials with which to create, that you did not have available the day before – that’s intelligent design, that’s startling – because suddenly, one day, you get, two or three new tools, and that…changes everything.

constantly evolving, constantly becoming more and more capable, and right now, I think I have the world class, the best of breed, the most remarkable, the most creative, the most flexible ambient music creation tool that there ever was – right here in my hands.

I’ve already done some experiments using scape as a “live backing” for live recording with guitar or guitar synth, and I can see a huge future opening up where I can play live…as scapes evolve organically, live, while I am improvising along. it’s really the ability to have “those” sounds, those amazing brian eno borne sounds, that makes scape so addictive and so wonderful to work with.

but – I can also see, in the recording studio, hybrid scape- and traditional- instruments blending really well together, using scape for entire ambient sections of music, overdubbing scapes with looped ebows – unlimited potential for both live performance and studio integration.

I can take looping, which I’ve been doing for so, so long, and blend it with this brand new ambient music creation tool – and I think the amount of flexibility that will give me, is going to be a game-changer.  I can imagine the kinds of hybrid music that will be available to me now, with tools like this…the mind reels at the nearly endless possibilities…

 

for me, one of the most exciting exercises was when I was given the instruction to “create a scape that works with another application”.  this was way back during scape week 1, when I barely knew what I was doing, but of course, I chose “itabla” – my other favourite music application, and I was quickly able to “tune” “itabla” down to c natural so it would work with scape, and I created a “tabla/tanpura” piece first, and then a scape to go with it.

when I play them back together…it’s bliss, pure, ambient, tabla, raga, ambient, bliss.  like no music I have ever heard.  this is a piece that I will be recording and presenting somewhere, because it’s just an astonishing piece of music – and, created by following the instructions/suggestions made by eno and chilvers.  I continue to use the instructions, even if they repeat, and as time goes on, my efforts to “create a storm” or “create confusion” or “work with colour” or “create contrasting textures” or “use only one type of element” – get better and better as the days go on.

some of the playlists I’ve developed, I’ve let play on repeat for many hours, and they sound like (funnily enough)…eno albums.  which is not surprising, given that the music within scape is mostly played by eno.  but – by intent or not – he has given us the actual DNA of his style of ambient music.

 

If I had designed a “dave stafford” version of scape, it would be all about ebows, ebows, and more ebows – you folk could construct “dave stafford”-sounding scapes out of recorded pieces of – energy bow guitar.  in fact, I’d love to do that, and I’d love it if you could get different “versions” of scape with different sample libraries – like the robert fripp version, which would have two modes: “frippertronics” and “soundscapes” – and you could “build your own” fripp soundalike pieces.  or the “ravi shankar” version, where you can create your own ragas, using real pieces of music from the master himself…

sometimes, I wish I were a developer – because I keep imagining these apps, but I can’t build them…

I don’t mean to, in any way, downplay this one, because the samples in this one are beautiful, really, really beautiful – but just imagine, a whole range of creation tools featuring sound bytes from all of the master musicians of the day – you could even do one based on jimi hendrix, so rock guitarists, who are not usually that much into ambient, could have a version to work with.  luckily, I happen to embrace both disciplines, being a rock guitarist turned ambient guitarist turned back to a rock guitarist – so I would be equally happy with the eno version and/or the hendrix version.

“scape” is like having a selection of the best sounds from “music for airports”, “thursday afternoon”, “neroli”, and any other classic eno ambient record you care to name, available for you to reconfigure into your own eno-like yet *not* eno-like pieces.

in fact, despite the fact that the samples are all played by eno or chilvers, it’s very easy to add in your own influence, by creating artistic, visual designs that they didn’t think of (or didn’t happen upon, is maybe a better way to put it) – and I’ve done some very, very strange visuals which created some very, very unique scapes – that I feel, in some cases, say more about my personality (I hope), rather than all sounding just like eno-soundalikes.  if you work at it, you can inject your own personality into the resulting sonic compositions.

I guess what I am saying is, if you just throw a few shapes onto the page, and push play – you will get eno and chilvers; chilvers and eno; eno and chilvers.  but if you take time to learn what each element does, and how the backgrounds and filters affect each scape, you can manipulate events, usually visually, to impart your own personality into the pieces.

by trusting in their suggestions, I’ve found that those suggestions often reward me greatly – they would know – and some of the best scapes are scapes based on the inbuilt suggestions. equally though, I find I can manipulate the visual palette to realise my own musical ideas – because I know, or at least I am learning – what to expect from the backgrounds, elements, and filters, so I can forge a “dave stafford” sound using “brian eno” elements – and further to that, if I then play live improvs along with a “dave stafford-ised” scape, or use same in studio works – I think the sky is the limit.

 

of course, I can, and have, and always will, build my own ambient pieces using the normal methods – synths, ebows, for me, mellotrons (reference: sky full of stars, an ambient album made entirely with the m-tron pro mellotron) – that goes without saying really.  however, having this sort of…purpose-built ambient music making machine, that can create lush, beautiful, enoesque tracks very, very quickly indeed, on the fly, live, or studio – well, that just is the icing on the cake, it gives me an amazing new vocabulary of ambient sounds to incorporate into my music, live or studio…OK, the method of creating the sound is visual, which is a change – but I learned to make music without keys or strings when I got my first kaoss pad – now, I can make music by creating visual works of art in the scape creation window – so that’s just the latest way to create music – I just add it to all the rest – nothing surprises me now, in fact, this visual method of creation, I think, is fabulous, and kudos to eno and chilvers for making it work so very, very well.

did I mention that I ***love***this application? scape is “the” ambient music application, and maybe, just maybe, my very favourite music application of all…we shall see.

I can’t believe how quickly you can conceive, execute, and complete new pieces, I can’t believe I’ve created 146 long form, ambient masterpieces in two weeks flat, the speed at which one can work with scape is incredible, and the results, sonically, are equally astonishing – words don’t do it justice, you have to hear it, see it, use it – and especially, use it – to experience the “growth”.

it looks great, it **sounds** great, and the way it “grows” as you work with it is undeniably an addictive and fantastic feature – wow.  each day – you get new tools with which to make ever-better, evolving, music.  because of this evolution – the pieces I made yesterday, are light-years, musically, beyond the pieces I made ten days ago.

 

and then… there was today’s session, the most productive of all, taking my total number of “scapes created” to over 200 – so about 50 created just today – and again, some, made to suggestions, some, made completely randomly, or based on newly-appearing elements – but, 200 + amazing pieces of ambient music, probably something like 20 full ambient albums made in just two weeks – that’s astonishing.

I love it.