Friday, December 21, 2007
Dark wing shadow
lake in September,
Light and shadow
the True World of
Love, that silence:
Blue water breathing.
-Kevin Macneil Brown
(from the ferry VALCOUR, Sept. 2007)
Here are my thoughts about music in 2007, from DUSTED MAGAZINE:
And here is a small gathering of material that might be part of my next album:
Blessings and peace to all. I'll be back to this journal late in January.
Friday, November 09, 2007
This piece of mine ran originally in ULTRARUNNING and most recently in the BARRE-MONTPELIER TIMES ARGUS and RUTLAND HERALD :
Running with the Wind Eagle
By KEVIN MACNEIL BROWN Correspondent
It wasn't supposed to be a vision quest, just a simple run up my favorite Vermont mountain trail: up the old carriage road to the bare rock summit of Mount Hunger, then down the other side and across the wooded ridge to the open, sun-baked ledges of White Rock Mountain. It was not an epic journey, just a couple of hours of moderately-challenging trail running.
Thomas Merton, the monk and writer, once wrote something to the effect that to begin each day by describing the same mountain is to be in the grip of delusion. One way I've found to escape that grip is to simply take myself physically right into — and onto — that mountain, the one I see almost every morning.
Above all, it was the amazing clarity of the morning air that pulled me out to run that autumn day. I'd been up on those trails a few times that season, on longer approaches. But today I was greedy for one more gulp of that mountain air, hungry for another look at that long, all-encompassing view from the peak.
So I ran — first through groves of hardwood, then, as I climbed higher, through dark, cool pines. The mountain was mine alone, it seemed.
I reached the summit after a short and exhilarating rock scramble. Stopping to catch my breath and drink in the view, I noticed the odd way the clear morning light seemed to lengthen the far Adirondack peaks to the West: an optical illusion that created dark spires and towers that I knew weren't really there.
Turning eastward, I took in a long line of high, thin, mackerel-flecked clouds that stretched like an ocean, breaking like silver-gray surf just above the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
For a while I watched in awe as four falcons, streamlined for motion in a way that I never would be, circled in a warm updraft current that rose, an invisible spiral, from the ridgeline below. The fast flight of the falcons made me restless, made me want to run again. So I found the trail down into the col between the two mountains. There, with blue sky high above me, I leaped from rock to rock in the shadowed, wet and mossy woods.
Then my breath caught for an instant when something dark passed behind and above me. In my imagination I saw clearly the crook of a giant black wing. It was huge beyond comprehension, some kind of spirit, I thought, darker even than these dark woods. The crisp air around me seemed to grow suddenly cold. I shivered, feeling something between fear and awe as a mysterious breeze passed over my sweating skin.
Minutes later, I came out into the open, warm and sunny ledges of White Rock, then followed the rocky, steep and rooted trail down.
It was a few days later that I came across the story, told by the Abenaki natives of Vermont — and retold wonderfully by the writer Joseph Bruchac — of the Wind Eagle in the high mountains. In this story, the primal being who was the Transformer, the Changer — known to some as Gluskabi, to others as Odzihozo — was tired of the way the winds had so often ruined his canoe voyages and impeded his travel.
He decided to leave his lakeside home and climb to the highest peak, the abode of the massive, fierce bird that created and controlled the winds. Through trickery, he got this creature — the Wind Eagle — wedged into a rock-cleft. Trapped there, the dark and massive raptor could no longer make the winds blow.
Satisfied with his work, the Transformer descended. It was only later, when the lakeside land grew still and breezeless and unbearably hot, that the Transformer realized his mistake. He knew now that he'd have to return to the mountain and free the Wind Eagle. He did so, and the cooling breezes returned at last, along, of course, with the fiercer winds.
It might have been a bird, or a cloud, even a plane, that made the dark shadow I felt pass across the sky and forest that morning. Or it might have been a figment of my imagination, an anomaly of heartbeat and respiration.
It really doesn't matter, though, because now I know about the Wind Eagle. And I know that when I run in the mountains — when I move my lungs, my muscles, my legs — something else moves too. It is something big and powerful and beyond my control and intention, yet somehow transformed by my own perception and attention.
It is transformed by my willingness, through motion and surrender, to set something like spirit free.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
LIMINAL MUSIC 4: THREE SHORELINE TRANSFORMATIONS/THE FIRST LAST OUTPOST, is finished. I'll be releasing it in a limited edition, each copy with a hand-painted shorescape insert and an actual NOAA marine weather forecast print-out included.
The two long pieces are very slow-moving, with subtle, shifting spacial dimensions and a liminal harmonic and melodic haze - my attempt at conjuring in sound the deeper structures and fog-bound, tidal, breaking-wave mysteries of eternal shorelines.
If you would like to order a copy, please contact me at:
You can listen to the music here:
As for the band, Rusty Romance, we are taking some time off from gigs this fall to spend time learning new songs that Rusty and I have written for the band, working towards a new 2008 album.
We'll be back on stage at First Night Montpelier, on New Year's Eve.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
An earlier trip to Maine with the band-- staying in New Harbor, a beautiful, tiny Maine lobstering port-- filled me with inspiring images. I spent some downtime sketching the rocks, water, and boats. Now, back home in Vermont, I’ve been painting from those inspirations a few mornings a week. The other mornings I’ve been working away at my latest novel, about which I’m not ready to say much.
One exciting thing about painting is the way it has reinforced my ideas and approaches to musical composition. Back in May and June I created two long pieces that will likely make up my next CD, tentatively titled THE FIRST LAST OUTPOST. Both pieces begin with the same “drawing”: a performance on lap steel and looping device recorded in real time. But then each piece is worked into a “painting” with what I call transformations and sound-smears: like sonic brush-strokes; manipulations of light, shadow, texture.
Thoughts on Composition, Spring Equinox 2005
I’m sure that I share with many other composers the desire --the deep yearning-- to make sonic structures that I want to hear, that I want to exist in the world.
This imagining and this yearning most often lead me to the making of sound assemblages--evocations of place and landscape, inner and outer; narrative songs set within and woven with reference points of musical style and memory-- that while not always exactly, in the end, what I might have imagined them to be, turn out to be exactly what they need to be, even with all their mistakes and imperfections.
In the composing, improvisation, recording, and production processes--most often solitary--I have used the spacial considerations of effecting, panning, and mixing to leave an empty space for myself, and, by extension, for the listener.
In one sense, this is the ultimate creative self-centeredness: putting myself at the center of the sonic world. Of course, the inherent paradox is that this presence reveals itself as an absence: A silent space, in the midst of other spaces both silent and sounding.
In looking for a name to describe these works, I came to see that the music was about places both real and imagined, about states of in-between: between sleeping and wakefulness; between land and water, between darkness and light at dusk or dawn. Thus the name: Liminal Music.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
The onset of spring in northern New England brings changes in the light: the softening of hues; the lengthening of duration and shadow. This March the snow is still deep-- more than a foot in my backyard. But every day the snow-pack shrinks a little more, and even another big storm could only temporarily change the tide of spring's arrival.
In the past few weeks I've stayed with the themes and concerns of my composition THE INEFFABLE FREEDOM OF CAPTURED LIGHT. I've been painting on canvas in the mornings, answering a call that the exploration of changing light has offered. And I've spun off new musical pieces from various juxtapositions and confluences of the sonic elements of INEFFABLE FREEDOM, using them as sonic background to the act of painting. Over the weeks this work has cohered into a whole that I would like to someday present as an installation piece. (Right now the installation exists only in my studio.)
Given these concerns and interests it's perhaps no surprise that I'd be pulled into the sound world of a composer deeply influenced by the energies of visual art. As winter became spring, I found myself listening in the afternoons to a lot of Morton Feldman, including his six-hour-long STRING QUARTET NO. 2, which, I'll admit, I experienced as If I were reading a novel-- settling into it over the course of a few days, each time taking up where I'd left off before. There are sections of luminous and mystical beauty in this work; mysteries of tone and harmony that sometimes touched a longing in me and truly hurt my heart.
Also a musical companion some afternoons has been Susan Alcorn's remarkable AND I AWAIT (THE RESURRECTION OF THE PEDAL STEEL GUITAR). Susan Alcorn commits to and inhabits each note she plays; It's an all too rare quality in a musician, and for the listener, it can open up worlds. The long title piece offers surprises each time I hear it. And Susan's version of the Italian tune "Volare" is a pure joy: dreamy, alluringly textured, melodic; conjuring with an orchestra of multi -tracked pedal steel guitar something that suggests to me what Les Paul and Mary Ford might have come up with if they'd been hanging out with Sun Ra.
And now this morning the sky is blue. The snow has melted down an inch since yesterday. Time to go out for a run.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Made a few changes to "The Freedom of Captured Light" this morning. Returning to the
third-- and the first finished-- version, made some EQ changes to tame the hiss and rumble, making sure to keep the overall tonal coloration.
Next, I added complexity by doubling--then tripling-- the whole piece in separate tracks, panning and time-shifting (not by much) each track to create a sense of spaciousness and transparency.
And now this piece has come newly alive.
Committing to a name: THE INEFFABLE FREEDOM OF CAPTURED LIGHT.
Morning reading : Cold Mountain Poet. A force of nature; humanity almost, but not quite, subsumed in rock, mountains, rivers, pines. (winds and waters.)
These poems, in David Hinton's deep and powerful translations (MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA) are having an effect on my musical composition. Or am I just riding a wave of synchronicity in my inner winter life right now?
Coffee, work on editing yesterday's two reviews for DUSTED. A quiet house for a while, so I took advantage and vacuumed floors.
Settled into some late-morning work on CAPTURED LIGHT: recorded glass bowls , struck with sticks. The sound made me think of bare rock beneath my feet. I treated the recordings with rolled-off old-time radio EQ, made a few various cuts and copies , then placed them within the mix of the most recent , composite, version of the entire piece. The bowls have a close-up sound that reminds me of a footpath, and perhaps that up-close-ness adds some welcome human scale/perspective as it wanders, unfolds within the big-sky, wide- horizon of sound that is predominant in the composition.
Hot bath, a beer. Reading in Holbrook's 1939 biography of Ethan Allen. An entertaining and engaging read, written in a sly and energetic "Yankee" voice.
Later, watching the sky change, the light move, I listen again to "The Ineffable Freedom of Captured Light ." I hear now that perhaps there should be some steel guitar early in the piece--a glimpse of blue as distant allure-- sliding in with major 7th blossoming, entering, reverb-ed for sense of distance, on the left--far left..
Now the sky has gone from blue to striations of violet--then a last blush of rose captured in high windows of high towers at Vermont College. The evergreens are almost black: spruces straight and tall; white pines caught stilled in what looks like mid-motion-- splay, sway, wave...
Dusk falling. I slipped off for a short winter's day nap.
Rising. Up and at 'em. Started a white bean stew.
Some work tonight on "captured light..", adding steel entrances as early hints of blue.
Also some EQ, scooping out bass mud accrued by multi-tracking.
Up at 6:30. Sub-zero again. Listening to latest version of "light", I think it's as good as I can make it. That is, it is what it is.
This piece really does go well with watching sunrise or sunset play out against the winter sky. The composition is 20 minutes and 50 seconds long. Maybe I should offer the listener instructions to begin playing the piece 20:50 before sunrise or sunset, and to look out a window while he or she listens.
You can listen here:
Thursday, February 01, 2007
All this microscopic listening makes me edgy, grumpy. So, out for an hour's run in the snow.
My reward: Gray-green river, high and fast-moving under gray, snowing sky. The calm, monastery-like beauty of pine woods at Redstone park: snow-covered wooden benches, the stream and falls full, as they've been all winter.
Clear-headed, grounded, aerated, I listen yet again. I hear a few places that need work. I add more white (metallophone shimmer, pitch-shifted, reverbed), a bit of distant blue (steel guitar again; cut, looped, reverbed). I hear also a need for some translucent haze in the white (bells).
But for now, I need another break. I tend to get obsessive, working, pushing on until I'm satisfied--and/or exhausted. I'm going to try to do this piece a little differently.
Morning; a few more brushstrokes added. Listened on walkperson while I shoveled wet snow. Listened again while I walked to work. Almost done.
Crystal clear and cold-- sub-zero -- this morning. Some work on "Captured Light." An attempt at fine-tuning, but not quite getting it. Our heating system being fixed today, so it's COLD in the house. Bright sun, dazzling white snow-- shadows of tree branches on shiny surface crust.
I abandon music for the day, go out for a run. Back at home, I make a slow- simmering tomato sauce with peppers and hot Italian sausage-- an attempt to warm the house. Successful.
PM- Another attempt at EQ tweaking: cutting highs, boosting lower mids. Much better results: the piece has a thickness and warmth it didn't have before.
Listened to and compared, while editing some writing projects, both versions--original and re-EQd-- today. The first sounded better: more spacious and and airy; more shimmer.
I think the second version was satisfying at first from a sense of safety: it made the piece sound more like my previous work-- dark, murky, almost black and white.
But today I can trust the NEW direction behind the making of this piece. It seems the first mix is the one to go with.
(That said, there is still a need for some hiss reduction, maybe a slight taming of lows...)
Monday, January 29, 2007
Woke up late after 9 hours (!!) of sleep. Gray morning. Coffee, read a few poems by Tu Fu.... Read them again.
To work on "Captured Light." My mission today is to paint in sound the color field I see as Gold/bright green. This entails taking a section of yesterday's work, cutting it, then re-harmonizing it in the program Acid. (I have tuned it 21 half-steps up.) Then cutting again to size and proportion, laying it in so that it fills the right time/space within the piece. I'm quite sure I've never worked so visually before; but it seems appropriate, given the inspiration for the piece. Like stepping back from a canvas, I listen. Make changes. Step back. listen again.
This morning's work: simply listening.
Gray, warm-ish but raw outside. Like April again.
Deep sleep. Up at 7. Snow falling; big, pretty flakes in gray dark morning.
Coffee, reading in Tu Fu. Sadness in these words; an autumnal chill of aging, regret.
Work on "Freedom of Captured Light." Recorded a shimmering pulse of metallophone for the color-field White-gold; after that, a steel guitar melody arcing to a Major 7th as its highest tone: A yearning, sweeping arc of bright blue (from mountain tops to sky.)
Next, hours of layering, moving, removing, mixing.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
January 9, 2007
Up at 6:30, reading the knife-sharp poems of Li Po-- David Hinton's remarkable translations in MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POEMS OF ANCIENT CHINA ( New Directions).
Sun rise on snow-white mountains flamed with reddish gold; I watched, drank coffee.
A short run with the dog; cold, crisp morning with an April-like wind out of SE. Amazing striations/layers of color and shadow in the view across to the Worcester Range.
Up in the dark. Li Po resonance of words again: rich in peaceful shock of image, sound.
Thnking this morning, deeply, about color-field, landscape ... (that, really, landscape/shape alone is not what intrigues me, but rather the way light and sound act to shape it-- how paint and words and composition can be analog to that exchange -- and beyond that: how that exchange is a sign of Spirit's true existence.)
So, once again: sky, Luminism; Fitz Hugh Lane.
I'm imagining a long piece of music --1 hour?--of tone-fields as color, shape. (see the mountain drawing in yesterday's journal) Layers of tone (table organ, lap steel, bells) in reverberant space. Stacking, shifting, shadowing...to create a sonic view. Such a piece perhaps best made over a long period of time-- weeks? months?....
THE FREEDOM OF CAPTURED LIGHT.
Dark gives way to violet, within that, a perfect half moon. Coffee, and reading Tu Fu. These poems are structured, striated, with a more complex diction than the earlier wilderness poets, perhaps.
Last night I had set up microphone, table organ, yamaha reverb, Lexicon jam man. Now, this morning, with view of mountains flaming from salmon to violet pink then cooling to violet and, finally, snow white, I record a quiet piece: letting notes from the table organ rise and fall and layer within the reverb and delay. This will be the first stratum of the sonic view I intend to work on this winter.
Ths morning's work, relating back to the drawing-- which has become, it seems, the score for this piece-- is the gray, dark pine-colored "ground": the lower part of the canvas, of the view.
(Minor triad tonality (D # minor) with pentatonic scale tones rising and falling: shadow patterns.)
Monday, January 15, 2007
sounding: Cast the metal
(bronze? for belief...)
Its very nature is
the truth of its
And then there is
the winter sky:
Ah, I can't describe it.
But it calls
and dark birds take
that brightness. The
arrives, wings mended new
by that far, fresh
-Kevin Macneil Brown
This poem turns out to be preamble to some music I'm at work on now.