Saturday, December 10, 2016

December Voices

December brings to me the urge to turn inward. This year I have a new book in progress, and its voices and stories have been coming quietly and steadily. Thus, inward seems to be the right direction.
I thank all of you who visit this blog and partake of the words, art, and music I share here. I hope you'll be back in 2017.
I will close the year here by sharing some recent music. The first track is an ambient piece inspired by the snowy landscape and late-autumn light.
The second is a country song that tells a story inspired by an early morning moment and a glimpse of a stranger.
The third is a cowboy Christmas song in a vintage style.
I hope you enjoy listening.
I wish you the best for this season and the new year ahead.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

shimmer hymns: music lost and found

This past summer I spent a rainy day cleaning out a room I call the catch-all room. Finding a box of cassette tapes—mixes of music I had recorded and mixed decades ago-- and a working cassette player seemed serendipitous. I began listening. One tape in particular caught me, stirring up memories of late night into early morning sessions in the dark, catching moments while my then-young children were sleeping.

The music also stirred tactile memories of the simple tools I had used create it: Fostex four-track, a borrowed Guild Starfire guitar, a single Yamaha digital reverb box, various bells and hand percussion,  a Sure SM-58 Microphone ( still my main vocal mic on stage); a little Casio SK-1 keyboard, endless loop tapes designed for telephone answering machines.

These were pieces of music I had truly forgotten, and now they sounded good to me. I think they had fallen short, at the time, of what I wanted of them—I do remember that I was quite often frustrated by the limitations of cassette fidelity back then, during the clean-sound CD hegemony.

But now I find that I love the hiss, the odd compression, even the distortion of occasional tape saturation. And I notice how vari-speed of tape can be a flexible and expressive tool for changing pitch and timbre.  Most of all, I hear now that this music came out exactly as it was meant to, with truth of mood and emotion.

I hope I can take this as a lesson and apply it to current creative situations that might seem fraught with a sense of limitation and frustration; that I can recognize that what comes through is usually what needs to come through. With all this in mind, I’ve released these three songs just as I found them on the old cassette. -KMB

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Reading and Book Launch, October 18 at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library

I hope you can join me at the Kellogg- Hubbard Library in Montpelier,Vermont at 7 PM on October 18 for a reading and book signing to celebrate this year's harvest-- the fifth book in the Liam Dutra New England Mystery series. The event will also include a discussion about the process of writing fiction inspired by depth of place, and a question and answer session.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016


Today is the official publication day for my ninth novel, the fifth book in the Liam Dutra New England mystery series. As the book meets the world, I’m sending my thanks out with it: to first readers and editor for eagle eyes and engagement; to my partner in life, Robin Cornell, for her patience in living with a person who often spends long stretches of time in another world; to my loyal fans and steadfast readers, whose presences help keep my boat on the waters. I am grateful for each and every one of you!
    The book is available at amazon . Stay tuned for details of a book release event coming up in October at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont

   And, for those who might wonder, work on the next book has just begun.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

3 small watercolors at the end of August (art and music)

Early in the morning, soft light arrives, and with it the urge to paint. I prepare a palette, thinking of the colors I hear in a new piece of music I've been working on. I make three paintings very quickly.

3 small watercolors at the end of august from Kevin Macneil Brown on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Summer Shorelines

Shorelines, pond and river edges; beaches, sandbars, rock cliffs: these are liminal places that invite reflection and contemplation of stillness, power, chaos, change.
This summer has been full of family and close friends for me: full of reunions, celebrations, intimate conversations. This has stirred up old memories and new possibilities, and lately I have the sense that I have been painting from deep in my heart.
In body, mind, memory, and soul, I go to the waters’s edge, and bring back what I find there.

                                           Pond's Edge, Summer Morning

                                          Seapoint Beach, Kittery Maine


                                           Home Waters

                                       Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, 
                                       watercolor and graphite on paper, 2016.


shaped by water, motion, time
scanograph by Kevin Macneil Brown, 2016.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Dawn Voyages (watercolor paintings)

Dawn Voyage 1, Dawn Voyage 2- Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, 2016

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Rising Green (new watercolor paintings)

Here in Vermont, the journey through the month of May into early June brings new foliage to the softwoods and grasses, in layers and layers of variegated greens-- almost too many to be believed. As a painter I find myself obsessed, if only for three weeks. Here are a few recent paintings, made before the woodland colors darken and blend into those of summer.

Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, May-June 2016.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Sunrise and Old Western Songs" (Digital 45)

In the spirit of the vintage country and western music I love so deeply, I’ve put together a single -- a digital 45--featuring two new original songs. One is a ballad of the wide open spaces. The other is a Bakersfield-style honky tonk shuffle. Both were conceived and recorded with old-school sounds in my mind’s ear--  sounds, already old then, that I remember coming across the 1970s  AM radio airwaves late at night. And yes, lots of steel guitar.

                                                 sketchbook page by KMB

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Books on a Bus

I love it when the world tells you just what book you need to read next. Two weeks back, after a day of lakeside watercolor painting in April sun, I settled happily into my seat on the bus home from Burlington. The bus got crowded at the next stop, and I moved my pack to make room for a well-muscled, sun-burned guy of about thirty. He wore faded jeans and a gray tank shirt, had pierced lips and nose, and carried a large duffle bag.( I know, you are maybe thinking Queequeg here, but that’s not where I’m going with this.)
We exchanged quick hellos. I went back to writing in my journal. Before much time had passed, I heard the pop and hiss of a can opening, and then got a waft of modern, hoppy micro-brew beer. When I happened to glance his way a bit later, I saw that he was reading an old book in what looked like a hand-tooled leather cover embossed with gilt letters in an old west -style font.
I couldn’t help but ask him about it, and he seemed glad to show me: A TEXAS COWBOY,OR FIFTEEN YEARS ON THE HURRICANE DECK OF A SPANISH PONY, By Charlie Siringo.
 I knew I had come across that name, and recently at that, but I couldn't quite place it. The young guy and I had a short conversation-- he was friendly but taciturn-  on subjects ranging from country music to racist language in old books, and then on to dairy farming ( “I’ll tell you,” he said, “It”s not bad work, but I think the state of Vermont should maybe not romanticize it quite so much. Puts a lot of bad stuff in the lake..”)
When the passengers thinned out, he moved to a free seat. I went back to my journaling. I wrote the name “Siringo” in a margin.
Later that evening at home, I picked up a book I had just finished reading, “Ranger Doug” Green’s SINGING IN THE SADDLE, the definitive study of singing cowboys. I was pretty sure that’s where I’d recently come across the name of Charles Siringo I checked the index. Yep. I found the pages referenced and got the jist: Siringo had been a cowboy, a Pinkerton detective, and a New Mexico Ranger. His 1885 autobiography was likely the first book to mention a cowboy singing in the saddle…
I jumped onto my laptop and placed an Inter-Library Loan request.

I would have read Siringo eventually, I’m pretty sure.  But a beer-drinking stranger on a bus made sure that I got around to it sooner than later.

Monday, April 18, 2016

quarry ridge- poem, music, photographs

Last spring I went for a long trail run up into the trails around what once must have been a small-- perhaps family operated-- quarry. I was inspired by the first real green of spring, the sense of opening, the hazy mystery of distant hills and mountains seen through trees. I took quite a few photos along the way, and as I ran home words and sentences began to form. Over the next few weeks I sculpted those words into a  poem.  Over the following winter I made the accompanying music, with lap steel, laptop, and kalimba, keeping in mind the idea of an ancient journey that leads into timelessness.
Here are those elements combined, in the form of a short video:

quarry ridge from Kevin Macneil Brown on Vimeo.

April Vernal- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and map sections on paper, 2014.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Poised at season's edge....

                                       Dawn, Eastern Uplands- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
                                             watercolor on paper, 2016

It may have been the winter that never was here in Vermont, but I suspect there will be a bit more winter mixed with the spring that arrives this week.  With most of my work time devoted to the third draft of a book  right now, I'm taking a moment, on this quiet Sunday morning, to share a look back and a look ahead.
Letting winter go, I share this short video combining most of this year's winter watercolors with new music for lap steel and laptop:

and winter light spilled slowly... from Kevin Macneil Brown on Vimeo.

On my sonic easel is a work in progress. This section was made with steel guitar and kalimba. The idea is of a journey in an ancient time.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Thoughts on the Third Draft

Third drafts, I find, can be somewhat geological. With the story and characters --mostly-- what they will be, I now come across veins, lodes, and layers of theme and mood, character and development.  Through rewrite and revision I can polish and clarify, connecting and revealing these things. It’s like discovering secrets within my own book. The third draft is also a good time for digging deeper into historical research and map work—fine-tuning details of background and location.

 After this, in the drafts that follow, a painterly metaphor might better describe the process— working with subtle tints and brushstrokes that will bring out detail, shadow, and highlights.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Colorado Sunset (watercolor painting)

A place, a moment--its shapes, colors, textures, light, shadows-- can be held inside for a long time before it shows up in a finished painting. The western view at Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, Colorado, has a particular resonance for me, vibrating with its beauty and power, with family memories and a sense of personal transformation.
On a December visit a couple of years back, I painted every day, filling a medium-sized watercolor sketchbook. Over the years I have painted watercolors from those sketches, mostly of the high peaks to the east and north.

A few days ago,though, I had a strong urge to paint a particular sunset that I had sketched loosely from the porch pictured above. (The place where I began and finished each sketching day, with wanderings in between.)  I consulted my sketchbooks and memory, then, on good watercolor paper, made the simple sketch below, leaving plenty of room for sky:

After that, in afternoon light, I chose and mixed my palette ( Payne's gray,  ultramarine, yellow ochre, permanent rose) and painted until finished:
                                WINTER SUNSET, VISTA VERDE RANCH- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, February 2016.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sketchbook Visitors with Stories to Tell...

I’ve written here recently about the fact that I tend to draw more than paint in the mid-winter months. This has a lot to do with the light—or lack of it-- in my studio. It might also be a response to a landscape that seems less about color and more about line, light, and sparse shadow.
This past year I have noticed something new happening in my sketchbooks. I draw every day, sometimes practicing ideas and techniques, sometimes rendering landscapes or nearby objects. What has surprised me, though, is the way people have begun to show up in my sketchbooks. They arrive as characters, with a back story that reveals itself as I draw. As time goes by, these characters and stories linger, and I begin to see where they might be going.  
The surprise in this is that I end up with people and events to write about. I’m finding this a new—and welcome—part of my writing process.
Below is a selection of some of these visitors. A few I have already written about; most are waiting in the wings until I finish the current book, Liam Dutra mystery number five.

                                     Sketchbook pages by Kevin Macneil Brown, 2015-2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Winter Morning Music

Like many endeavors, it begins with the second cup of coffee. It's a  cold January morning-- clear, the temperature below zero-- and sunlight spreads across  a snowy landscape, finds my window, suffuses the room.  I hear a cluster of tones inside me, and putting my coffee mug aside, take my steel guitar from the case. Steel bar in hand, I play the notes. Next, I rummage in my studio until I find the old Yamaha digital reverb-- 20th century vintage, seldom used of late-- that seems to be the tool I need. Within minutes I have a signal path to my computer, and I hit the record button.I begin to play, all the while internalizing that suffusion of winter light, letting it spread into the sounds I'm making.

Later that day, out on a trail run, I keep that music playing inside me as I explore the changing light and shadow of the winter day.  -KMB

                                     Photos by KMB

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mid-Winter: Snow, Light, and Paint.

During the Vermont winter, I find that the available light for watercolor painting is limited in duration. I do more drawing than painting during December and January.
But there are times when the light is right--and that's when I act quickly to paint the things that catch my attention. This year the snow did not arrive until January, making it all the more welcome -- and inviting to paint.

                                                Worcester Range, Morning, After Snow

Worcester Range, Morning Alpenglow

White Pine and Hemlocks in Falling Snow

Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, 2016.