I’ve spent most of my life concentrating on the audio side of music; gathering tools, learning techniques, practicing techniques, developing (hopefully) interesting sounds for the guitar, the guitar synth, and keyboards as well, via software synthesizers. And applications 🙂
It’s always been about sound, how to get the best sound, which guitar, which amp, which devices, which processors, which looper. Or…which application.
And to a large degree, that will always be true – sound is the most important thing to music! They can’t really exist without each other.
Whatever your view, music is basically sound organised over time, and getting pleasing or beautifully harrowing or wonderfully dissonant sounds is something I have always loved – and always will.
However, I’d always wished that I could create a visual record of some of the performances, especially, live, improvised performances either just playing the guitar or guitar synth and/or keyboards, vocals, kaoss pad, etc. – and finally, in 2011, I acquired a decent video camera – and, because I am limited in what I can do in terms of playing live gigs – I decided to regularly film these improvs, and hope that some of them produced some interesting…audio.
So it’s back to the audio again, but suddenly, it’s 2014, August 2014, and I am now able to look back for almost three full years, at the videos shot, and the pieces of music recorded.
At first, I would record many, many takes, and only release one or two videos. As time went on, I tended to release a few videos from each session, in some cases, I have actually released an entire session, or, a good part of a session. In other cases, two of them I can think of off the top of my head, a video session produced music of such quality that I immediately knew it to be the basis for, or that it would form a part of, an upcoming album.
Those cases were, July 24, 2011, when I played almost the entirety of “The Haunting” album live on video (it was later combined with the already-existing title track – but the majority of the songs on the album – were recorded at this one, single session – totally live). August 20, 2011, was another very productive day, where several live tracks that eventually ended up on the “Gone Native” CD and download album, were also all captured live on both video and audio, all in one long session.
So the video sessions, which are available on the pureambientHD youtube channel, which were really just to capture a moment in time, began to create music that I could not have anticipated or planned – since they are all live improvs – and some surprising results, such as a ready-made album “The Haunting” or, a session that produces several tracks for an in-progress album (as the 20110820 session did for “Gone Native”.
Videos were also made for other purposes, such as for my own enjoyment, as an example would be videos created for my “ablackboxHD” you tube channel, this is intended to become an “anything goes” video channel, but so far, I’ve used it exclusively to perform peter hammill / van der graaf generator covers – because not enough people cover peter hammill or van der graaf generator.
I have long intended to take a closer look at the audio side of these videos, and the moment I began working to create “music for visuals – live sessions” I hit pay dirt – I found that the sessions from which my very first video, “St. Alia Of The Knife” came, actually had no less than 18 takes on it !!! I immediately found an alternate version of “St. Alia Of The Knife”, which I have titled “inside the keep (alia’s secret)” which I have mastered and is featured now as an outtake, on the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album. I am currently going through the rest of the session, to see what else might be worth presenting.
There are some startling pieces there – ranging from the very peaceful, ambient “oboe in clouds of reverb” of “St. Alia” and similar tracks, all the way to very, very loud metal guitar – basically, in this session, I am trialling patches on my then-brand-new roland gr-55 guitar synth, so there are a startling number of very, very different sounds on these 18 tracks.
I then looked at the folder for the second video I ever produced, “Folding Space” and I found a similar scenario played out – again, many takes made, only one released. So there will probably be a number of viable outtakes that can now be included on the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album.
There are two aspects to this, one is worthwhile but time consuming – in that, there is a lot of undiscovered, improvised music in these sessions, that’s not been heard or considered for up to three years; but of course, there is a hit in time, as I have to listen to them all, and clean up and master those that are worth preserving – the other aspect, is also worthwhile, and it saves time – because most of the video sessions already have a mastered, clean, audio track – I should not need to (in most cases) remaster the tracks – it should transpire that I can literally lift the audio masters, from the video build folders, which will mean – that once I reach sessions with few or no outtakes – that I will be able to populate this album with many, many tracks, quite quickly.
So I am hoping that this album will grow exponentially, at the moment, i am starting out slowly – I’ve recorded a LOT of videos, which are all still available on YouTube, but now, the “music for visuals: live sessions” album will be able to showcase all of the additional audio, the best of the outtakes from all of the video sessions – and, if memory serves – some of that music is quite remarkable.
Often, if a session goes well, it would be a tough choice – OK, I have ten good takes of this improv – and, I might have released them all, or, I might have released the best six, or, I may have, in the earliest days, only released one or two – which means there may well be up to EIGHT really fantastic alternate takes just waiting to be discovered…
And I suppose that’s the real joy of this project – finding and hearing music that was recorded three years ago – to my mind, it may as well have been thirty years ago, for all I remember it. Of course, once I hear the tracks, then I do remember – but initially, it’s very exciting, because I have NO IDEA what to expect when I press “play” !!! That is a lot of fun.
It’s a similar/parallel experience to cueing up old reel to reel tapes that you haven’t heard for 30, 40 years, and the surprise and occasional amazement you feel when you hear something that you played, but have no memory of – a very strange feeling, I can tell you!
Anyway, I am very, very excited about this album, because – well, you tube, beginning in may, 2011, has become my world stage – I’ve only managed a couple of live performances in the last decade, for a variety of reasons, but by filming and posting 100 percent live improvisations, listeners can see and hear me playing a variety of musics that hopefully, will be pleasing to the ear.
I am looking forward to a time when this album has many, many tracks, perhaps, hundreds (I know there will be a LOT of outtakes) and in a way, it’s like my “live album” – it’s the audio feed from live video takes made over a three year period – so it has more of a live feel, and it’s perhaps a more honest representation of how I play (compared to say, a studio album – nothing wrong with studio albums, but, they can sometimes lack a bit in immediacy – which is certainly not lacking from most of these live improvisations!) – it’s my ongoing live record.
Of course, much of what I’ve recorded elsewhere is also live, looping performances, solo guitar or keyboard performances, piano and vocal covers, kaoss pad loop improvs, energy bow guitar solos or loops, and so on – it just so happens, that I did not film on those occasions.
It’s interesting to me, I think that many / most musicians, tend to use the studio more than I do, to layer sounds, which I do also do, and I enjoy – but for me, perhaps due to my early involvement in Guitar Craft, I do not know – but for me, it’s always been about the live performance. I think I am unusual in that probably, in excess of 80 percent of my recorded output is 100 percent live. Maybe it’s closer to 90 percent – I do not know.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more rewarding than a seriously considered multitrack “studio” song – witness “Wettonizer” or any other track from the “Gone Native” CD but in my case, those are few and far between – most of what I do is live, with the aid of the looping pedal, of course, but I don’t generally use pre-recorded loops – I do it all live, on the spot.
So I am hopeful that this three year long series of live videos, will produce a body of work that describes Dave Stafford as mostly, an ambient looping guitarist, who also does…other stuff. Loud stuff. Fun guitar. Rock guitar. Experimental guitar. Extremely Strange Guitar. All in a live setting, captured on film (but in many, many cases, the video was never made and never will be) but, the audio was captured and is available now, in 2014, to form part of “music for visuals: live sessions”.
I look forward to the next several months then, of digital archaeology; each time I open up one of those early folders, I never know what may tumble out! The first thing I found in the session for “St. Alia Of The Knife”, was a longer, slightly less ambient version, which I then mastered for the first time, and titled “inside the keep: alia’s secret” in honour of the original track – they are similar, but “inside the keep” is quite a bit more lively, and it includes some fairly wild guitar synth/oboe playing. It’s not perfect, but it sounds pretty good, and it makes a nice compliment to the original track.
The next track I am mastering, is so incredibly different to “St. Alia” it’s not funny, it’s a one minute demonstration of two of the wilder patches on the gr-55 guitar synth, which I’ve melded together and given the clever title of “metal synth lead / organ rock lead” – which is simply the two patch names combined] and it’s like a massive blast of raw noise after the two lovely, “reverberant guitarsynthoboe” tracks. It still seems strange to me, hearing myself switch from super ambient to super loud guitar mode at the drop of a hat, I do it a surprising number of times in a surprising number of sessions, many of which are meant to be primarily ambient or drone-like in nature – and then suddenly, after a really peaceful, relaxing, hypnotic piece of ambient music – you get this blast of heavy metal noise.
that will be the 15 year old Dave Stafford trying to escape from within the 50-something Dave Stafford, and sometimes, succeeding. I noted above that I don’t use pre-recorded tracks, and in the main, in 97 percent of cases, I absolutely do not – because I prefer to play the whole thing live, in real time, just to see if I can manage all those “threads” simultaneously. It’s a lot of fun, playing “all instruments”, live…and oddly enough, right now, I am in the middle of mastering and preparing a session from 20121207 – later christened as the “evolution” series, where I do just that – I play keyboards, kaossilator, distorted guitar, clean reverse guitar, ipad including iTabla, and various iPad synths – all to a running drum machine track. it’s very odd to hear myself doing a “quick change” a la Steve Howe, switching from distorted forwards guitar to clean reverse guitar and back again, repeatedly, without missing a beat – really fun to do.
I am thinking now, though, of another track with the rather silly name of “Big Rock”, this was a demo piece that was stored in the roland rc-50 looper, which I happened across, and I began selecting different roland gr-55 guitar synth voices, to play over this basic guitar, bass and drums “Big Rock” backing. While I never made a definitive version of this wild guitar jam, I know there are a few different versions of it lurking in the video archive, so hopefully, one or more of those will be useable for the album. It’s an absolute BLAST to play, just three chords, with a heavy rhythm section that does indeed, rock – so I would just solo in an incredibly free and wild way, and while imperfect, some of the existing takes are extremely exciting in content.
So without really trying, I hope I’ve given you some idea of what to expect from this new “music for visuals: live sessions” album, anything from:
• super quiet, intense guitar, ipad or synth loops – NOTE 4
• hybrid sessions where I play all instruments – NOTE 4
• distorted rock riffs or song fragments, using heavy distortion + effects – NOTE 4
• wild experimental jams featuring bizarre reverb and/or pitch settings – NOTE 3
• live ebow guitar loops similar to those I used to do back in the 1990s (I am thinking of the live session that produced “The Haunting” again here) – NOTE 4
• live loop performances using the korg kaossilator – NOTE 3
• live loop performances featuring classical and other bizarre sounding instruments via the roland gr-55 guitar synth – including “rich strings” loops with added ipad synths – NOTE 4
• lost piano and vocal performances and outtakes – NOTE 1
• “dream piano” instrumental improvisations – NOTE 6
• synthraga multiple apps controlled from an 88 key MIDI keyboard – with Indian itable, tanpura drones, and many different ipad synths soloing on top – all in real time – NOTE 4
• live loop duets of guitar synth and animoog (one of the best ipad synths) – NOTE 4
• live loops of almost anything musical or involving a guitar or guitar synth – NOTE 4
• fragments of instrumental songs from days past, played on the roland gr-55 guitar synthesizer, sometimes in old standard tuning, sometimes in New Standard Tuning – NOTE 4
• loops purpose built, using any number of instrument combinations (such as, for example, “scape” and ebow, or “animoog” and guitar synth “rich strings”, and so on) for the express purpose of creating very, very atmospheric, ambient music – NOTE 4
• a cappella vocal performances – ordinary or treated with effects – NOTE 1
• covers of songs by peter hammill, van der graaf generator, the beatles, todd rundgren, and others – usually, on piano and vocal, occasionally, on acoustic guitar and vocal – NOTE 1
• live performances, app synths, directly played on one ipad – NOTE 2
• live performances app synths, directly played on two ipads at once, using both hands – NOTE 2
• live performances app synths, directly played on three ipads, using one to produce a drone, and two to play on simultaneously, using both hands – NOTE 2
• live performances on the full size 88 key MIDI keyboard, driving various ipad applications or combination of applications, or, occasionally, using the onboard / internal voices of the keyboard – NOTE 5
• live electric guitar performances recorded using ipad apps (such as ampkit+ or bias) as amplifier, speaker emulation, and virtual effects chain – instead of a hardware set up, playing guitar through the ipad – NOTE 4
• live electric guitar performances through the pignose practice amp – NOTE 8
• live performances with the ipad using unusual ipad applications that do not have keys, strings or other ordinary means of triggering sound – for example, the “touch controlled” TC-11 synthesizer, which I have set up to play on two ipads – one for each hand, and, all sounds are triggered simply by finger or hand motions – a remarkable process – NOTE 2
1 see ablackboxHD for video examples
2 see applicationHD for video examples
3 see kaossilatorHD for video examples
4 see pureambientHD for video examples
5 see synthesizerHD for video examples
6 no current examples available as of this writing [August 2014] however, videos in this configuration have been filmed, they have simply not yet been processed, mastered or uploaded, so eventually, video and audio examples will become available.
7 no current examples available whatsoever, these are audio-only outtakes that will eventually be produced as part of the content upload for the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album – so, no video will be produced, but, audio examples will eventually become available.
8 planned future session, for which absolutely no video or audio examples exist at this time [August 2014].
The first five links above, in the “NOTES” key / explanation, are links to the five main “live improv” you tube channels we are currently maintaining. Each has a specific purpose, and each is meant to capture live improvs of certain types, so that similar works can be maintained together.
There are also two other you tube channels, not mentioned here, because they don’t contain live improvs, or at least, not contemporary improvs, and those are:
bindlestiffHD this you tube channel features the mostly live music of “bindlestiff”, a live / looping ambient duo from the early to mid-1990s, featuring my good friend and long-term musical partner, Bryan Helm – we’ve now formed a new group, to create new music with, called “scorched by the sun” – and our debut album is available on the “scorched by the sun” bandcamp page.
purescapes17 this you tube channel features recordings of “scapes” – ambient pieces created using brian eno and peter chilvers’ brilliant generative, ambient ipad application, “scape” – so in a sense, they are “live” – they were captured once, and that was it – so the first few tens of scapes, from over 1100 that I’ve created, are on the purescapes17 page.
And, just to confuse things even more, each one of these video channels has an audio equivalent, on the bandcamp site, and the bulk of my recorded catalogue, spanning a number of years, has now been uploaded to bandcamp for your listening / downloading pleasure….
I look forward to adding many (perhaps hundreds, who knows? – I certainly don’t) of tracks to this new eternal album, “music for visuals: live sessions” over the coming months (and knowing me, and long-term projects…over the coming years, I should really say!) – a voyage of discovery, and hopefully, I will find us all some items of interest to listen to – for all of you fans of many styles of ambient and experimental guitaring…this is the blog for you!! 🙂
See links below for bandcamp sites (audio) and you tube (video) channels.