Looking Up

We moved from South Hampton, NH, to Newton Junction, NH, when I was three years old. Both houses were on quiet, wooded streets… and both were colonial houses with sloping floors and multiple additions over their years, and both had large old barns… and bats.

My dad taught American history and my mom worked for the agency that accredited secondary schools. They were products of elite schools, my mom went from Abbot (now part of Phillips Andover) to Brown, and my dad from Governor Dummer (now The Governor’s Academy), to Colgate and then Brown, where they met, for his graduate work. How we ended up in small towns in rural New Hampshire is still a little murky to me, but I grew up wandering the woods of Newton Junction…building tree forts, following old train track beds, and falling into icy ponds as one does.

Things went upside down around 1983 when the local schools started to come up short in my parents’ estimation, and off I went to private school. By that time my father had become a successful antiques dealer, turning his interest in history into a passion for historical objects that still drives him today… and there were funds available to edumacate me in a manner that seemed suited to my particular curiosities. I donned a sport coat and tie and set about learning how money moves the world.

In the following years I got learned in all manner of subjects… and part of me got smarter while I slowly lost my connection to the natural world of my youth.

I lived in Newburyport, MA, near the ocean for years, but rarely made it to the coast. The city has protected parks and forests and occasionally I would wander wooded trails without being able to connect to anything beyond the demands of life… which eventually included ex-wives, children, running a busy recording studio, and multiple trips a month to a studio in Vermont where I was working.

In 2015 I hit a particularly dark wall, and as I was finding my way to some emotional and life clarity I discovered that the air at the ocean changed my energy. I started to breathe deeply for the first time in years, I began to listen more carefully to the waves and the wind, and I started to see trees again. 

The Japanese have a term, “shinrin-yoku,” which translates to “forest bathing” and basically encapsulates the idea of allowing oneself to dwell in nature. The term was coined in 1982, just as I was leaving the woods for Latin lessons, and as a practice called “Windhaming” started to emerge (also in Japan) in which people would spend time outside whilst listening to music from a particular Palo Alto-based instrumental record company (the owner of that label later opened a recording studio in Vermont…). Curious.

Nature became central to my life, and essential to my sanity in the last several years, and as I brightened, my life took turns for the better. My quiet times breathing, taking photographs, and listening outside soon went alongside the more strenuous outdoor activities that my new girlfriend enjoyed. She invented an activity which I believe is called “let’s kill Tom” which involves me attempting to keep up with her as she runs, hikes, kayaks, or solves corn mazes.

Despite that, Sarah and I were married on the beach in May of 2021, and we started looking for a place to live that would allow us to be connected to nature without becoming disconnected from our respective familiar cities. We found a little house with a big barn in East Kingston, NH… not too far from Sarah’s Concord haunts or my coastal beaches… and we began the process of making a life here, next to a working farm and surrounded by trees.

In September of last year, just after we had signed the papers to buy the house, we stood on the balcony off the second floor of the barn at night listening to the goats next door yell at each other. They sounded a little drunk but I think that’s just what goats do. Suddenly my eyes caught a familiar shape above us in the twilight… and I was ten years old again standing outside our barn in Newton Junction. “Bats!” I pointed… and Sarah looked up. It felt like a welcoming… like a sign that I had returned home.

I wander back and forth between the house and barn multiple times a day for ear breaks (or snack breaks), and last week as I headed to the house for the night I found myself stopped in the driveway, breathing deeply while looking at Orion leaning over in the southern sky… and I realized I loved the air here. Something in those deep breaths connected me to my past, opened doors to the future, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was home.

Great Pond at Kingston State Park… frozen.
Nita jumped the fence because the grass looked greener on our side. She and her son, Tex, hang out outside my studio door pretty regularly.

This is my confused face / On being a fan

I’m am completely fascinated by Kanye West’s situation. His last album, Donda, was streamed a zillion times (well, 60 million the first day and then on up) and as a follow up he decided he wanted to do something boutique. He released “Donda 2” as stems, essentially four discrete tracks of audio (drums, vocals, etc.) which the listener can interact with by controlling the levels of the individual parts, or muting them, etc., and the stems were to be played by a small device. The device and the music were available together, as the ONLY way to listen to the work, for $200. Here’s what he said about it:

“Donda 2 will only be available on my own platform, the Stem Player. Not on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, or YouTube. Today artists get 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own.”

Sounds great, right? Forward thinking, problem solving, asking for fans to step up and step forward to support the artist. I love it, actually.

The problem is his fans hacked him. Shortly after release fans wrote code (for Mac and PC!) to download and play the stems without the player. I’m going to set aside the legal part of file sharing here and focus on the part that gets me.

What the hell, music fans? If you are a Kanye fan, and he releases new music with an explanation about how the industry typically burns artists and his idea of taking back control… how do we end up here?

I’m struggling to see it. My sixteen year old son is a rabid music fan, and he and I talk about how sometimes you have to separate the musician from the art to keep appreciating the art. Aerial Pink and Damon Albarn come to mind in his generation, but there have always been jerks and idiots making decent music, we just didn’t always have the information to know about the people beyond the music.

But this Kanye situation starts to really cross a line where the desires of the artist are simply trumped by the entitlement mindset of the audience. In a post-Napster world we’ve become accustomed to “free” music, but I can’t think of another situation where an artist’s fan base has so overtly flipped off the creator while eagerly consuming his art. That 12% Kanye would have gotten from the industry seems a lot better than the slap in the face he’s getting from his fanbase.

So, clearly we can be music fans without being music supporters. We can disregard the artist even as we clamor for their work. Even my Bandcamp account splits stats into “vistiors” and “supporters” (I have three times as many plays from visitors, meaning only about 25% of people listening to my music on Bandcamp, which is by far one of the most supportive music communities, chip in). It’s a strange disconnect to me, as I grew up in the time when I had to actually buy music on physical media if we wanted to be able to listen to it. Now I happily pay $15 a month for my whole family to have access to millions of song on Apple Music. As a music listener it’s great… not so much from the artist side, but that’s a different thread I’ll pick up at some other time.

Will (Ackerman) told me that when the cd first came out one of the engineers he was working with said they had let the genie out of the bottle… he knew that once music became a stream of ones and zeroes it became possible to make perfect copies of it, but what he didn’t know was the internet was coming for us.

I’m not a Kanye fan, or a Ye supporter, either. Except right now I feel for him, as he discovers that those millions of people he thought were supporters don’t care about him at all.

Don’t ever change, I like you just the way you are…

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” – Emerson

What IS change, exactly? I mean, given that time is moving right along, isn’t it impossible for any thing to be the thing it was a moment ago?

Let me back up… or at least get more specific.

A lot of the music I make has, either buried in it or overtly displayed, what Emerson might call foolish consistency. A single tone lingering through an entire piece (see “vervagen” from my indesterren album) is undeniably unchanging… and yet what surrounds that tone is always changing.

Intertwining long loops of slightly random events (see “the marsh and the tide” from my elements: earth album) can feel both consistent AND variable… like ocean waves or crickets chirping. The sound is identifiably consistent and yet with deeper inspection made of many singular events.

If familiarity breeds contempt shouldn’t we hate music altogether? I mean, how many times can we hear “Sweet dreams are made of this…” and still happily sing along? Personally, I’m still counting. Maybe music gets a waiver on the whole foolish consistency thing, just because it’s a time based art form. I’ll have to check the rule book and consult the judges on that.

As a music listener, an occupation that predates any interest in making music, I was always drawn to albums that had a sonic consistency to them. Beyond just the familiarity of repetition, I hungered for records that created places I wanted to spend time in. When Harold Budd and Brian Eno made The Pearl they also created a world I never wanted to leave. Tim Story’s Beguiled is similar, as is David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth.

I spent hours and days lost in those very consistent worlds. I grew addicted to the hover of tonality. My mind found real comfort in the reliability and availability of those sonic landscapes in the same way my body embraces the air at the ocean. And eventually I learned how to go there in my own music.

Part of it is stopping. Perhaps a large part of making patient music is stopping yourself before you’ve gone and filled up every foreground moment with a “look at me!” event.

My process, at least when I’m availing myself of instruments beyond the piano, tends to start with the landscape. The part that will be revealed when the foreground rests. The landscape is the world the song will live in.

There’s a key and a feeling and some motion of some sort, but it’s the musical equivalent of wind and birdsong. Not just because silence is scary and unsettling, but because in nature (at least in my experience) there is no real silence. It takes only a minute in a quiet studio room before I can hear my own heartbeat… I’ve never been anywhere that quiet in the natural world humans inhabit.

People talk about “the space between the notes” but that space was never silence… John Cage summed that one up pretty well in 4:33.

Anyway, once the landscape is done, I can ask what happens in front of it. Last year, when I was making the “elements” albums, the answer was “nothing!” Generally, though… something does happen.  Ideas emerge out of the fog of the landscape and ask to be committed to tape and I oblige them.

Let’s get back to the foolish consistency. As I write this I’m listening to a Vangelis piece (“Twilight” from The City). I believe it’s a five minute song that has been on repeat for at least a couple of hours and I might listen to it for another hour or so just because it’s the space my day has been living in. The light in the room has come and gone as bands of rain have passed over the studio building. The cat has wandered in and out. But through it all a high G, gently played on a string synth of some kind, has held things together.

I’m completely grateful for the constancy of the music, the consistency of its mood and the way it changes my energy. The sound is my indoor ocean waves, my indoor soft breeze of place and time and it serves to keep my brain from rattling around inside my head as the day winds to its end. This is why I make music.

The Initial Disturbance

The initial disturbance is, according to the interwebs (which are always correct), the thing that sets a ripple into motion. A stone dropping into water, an unexpected message, or a new piece of music can set ripples into motion that last for years.

I’ve experienced a few time ripples in the past couple of weeks, waves of deep history coming around into the current moment in unexpected ways, and as a result have been thinking quite a bit about the various ways I relate to time.

Part One: In Which I Am Disturbed

At some point in 1987 my friend Cristin introduced me to Windham Hill Records and specifically to George Winston’s solo piano albums. Hearing that music changed me forever. I think that was the initial disturbance of my life. I had been listening to a lot of instrumental music, but it was the colder, more mechanical German electronica that my brother was bringing home from college (I’m looking at you Edgar Froese). I had not heard modern instrumental music that seemed intent on communicating something fundamentally emotional… something about being human and in the moment. It was transformative.

It took me quite a while to discover that Will Ackerman had produced those albums, but eventually I came to realize that Will’s aesthetic was driving much of the music that moved me in those years, and for many to come.

I started writing music long before I met Will in person, but once he and I started working together to make records for other people I really began to understand why the music he guided was so emotionally rich. More importantly, I started to understand the HOW. My music changed. The way I could put my personal life to use in my own music became clearer, and I learned how to breathe differently in my playing. I learned to give myself over to feeling as the first priority.

Last week I played piano on one of Will’s songs for his next album. It was a beautiful experience for me… to sit in the control room with him, listening back to my piano playing with his guitar.

I know music can only be experienced in time, as time passing, but never have I felt such a large circle close back. Three decades rippled out and returned in a moment and I heard him in my phrasing, shading, and dynamic choices, and he heard me as a piano player in his song and we both felt like the old friends we are now… speaking a language now known best to us.

Part Two: In Which I Am Disturber

Yesterday I got an email from Tim Story. He told me that some of my elements pieces had been playing at his house and he was enjoying how they filled the room with color. Now, if you don’t know Tim Story you can choose to have a better life right now by leaving this ridiculous blog and searching his music out on your favorite music service. Or you could keep reading, whatever… you’re your own person.

Tim’s albums have been the soundtrack to my life, and to the lives of my boys, for decades. Words aren’t the best for describing music, but Tim’s is rich, mysterious, comforting, melodic, and timeless. His three albums for the Hearts of Space record label (Beguiled, The Perfect Flaw, and Shadowplay) are friends I return to again and again.

Imagining my music filling the air in his home, as his has in mine since the late 80’s… well, it’s another time collision. Just as with Will, Tim is probably unaware that I make so many musical choices because he opened doors to paths I didn’t know were there. His music shaped the musician I am, and now my music colors in his life. I feel some strange mix of gratitude, humility, and joy.

I’ve never known exactly what to dream about while awake, but when a musical idol takes a moment to write to you just to let you know that your work works… well, that’s a dream I definitely never thought to have. It’s probably worth mentioning that I first heard Tim on a CD called Soul of the Machine, put out by Windham Hill, so in a pretty direct way Will was responsible for that, too.

Part C: In Which Pepsi Brings My Dead Ancestors Back to Life*

And finally, those who follow the newsletter know that Ms. Sarah and I are getting hitched shortly. I’ll be 50 next month and while I feel as productive as ever, I know time is limited and I am so glad and grateful to be able to look forward from here standing, walking, dreaming, and running side by side with (or, as the case typically is, a few steps behind) her (whilst gasping for air). What caught me off guard was the sudden emergence of another ripple in time as my mother produced a ring first worn by my great-grandmother when she married my great-grandfather 99 years ago last month.

There is little left of family heirloom or homestead due to moves and fires and circumstance, but that longer arc of life, love, and time passing was right in my hand, and in the perfect size to fit on Sarah’s finger. Another circle, carried forward by time, representing events both long past and still ongoing. Thank you Mom, and thanks Helen and A.G., and happy 99th. Sorry about all the plastic.

*see #7 here.

Collaborating with the Medium, or, How the Container Shapes the Art

I love Hipstamatic. It’s a brilliant little app on my phone that acts like an old Polaroid camera. I take a shot and Hipstamatic applies a bit of processing to it and puts a nice little frame around the image. And then I’m done.  

The frame and the processing basically prohibit me from doing anything to the image after the moment I take it. I get so much enjoyment out of trying to compose pictures inside the constraints of the little viewer screen on my phone… and I have come to understand (more or less) how to take pictures that look good once the program “finishes” them.

In my real life I spend an inordinate amount of my life doing what is considered “post” work. Probably half the work on every record happens when tape isn’t rolling. I’ve got to get the original event captured well, but then I can shape and bend the sound into what I think it really should be long after I’ve got the performance documented. 

Hipstamatic puts me in the moment. The entire act of creation from capture to completion is literally over in less than  a second. And yet I am still engaged as an artist, making what I’d consider to be art. A few folks have suggested that they might consider a few of my pics to be art as well (there’s no accounting for taste).

I completely, actively, embrace working this way. I am aware of the limitations of the process and I love working within them. But what happens when the limitations aren’t obvious? What happens when we alter our creative process to fit a set of finite boundaries we have not ever considered?

Well, now we’re back to making records.

Let’s jump back to the LP… the “long-playing” record albums that were the vehicle by which serious music listeners enjoyed their favorite music. The LP has a number of very finite constraints, not the least of which is that your album must be split into two halves. Given the amount of physical space on each side of a 12” LP and the fact that the music is physically cut into the surface of the master, there are dynamic limitations which intersect with time limitations, and panning limitations which intersect with frequency response limitations.

In order to sound good, a side should be under 25 minutes. The shorter the side the louder it can be cut, which is good. And your most dynamic material should be early on the side, where each rotation of the record contains far more surface, and therefore more potential detail, than the inner rotations. On vinyl, bass needs to be mono so the needle doesn’t get kicked out of the groove, and the music is equalized (has its treble and bass adjusted) as it is cut, and then un-equalized (the opposite bass and treble changes)  by the phono preamp as the record is played back in your living room.

The technical considerations for cutting vinyl are massive, and that’s before we consider that the person cutting the album is actually an artist as well who has a personal aesthetic and their own tools customized for their workflow.

Twelve-year-old me had no idea about any of that. I knew I had to turn the record over. I knew each side worked well as a side, and the two sides together worked well as an album. I was unaware that the medium itself was shaping the art. Most of us are. But every artist delivering music to their audience via the LP has had to make decisions about their music based entirely on the delivery medium.

The compact disc holds a maximum of about 80 minutes of music (78 to be safe). The story is that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony could fit in 74 minutes, and that was the basis of the compact disc’s time constraint. The CD liberated us from sides, from changing audio quality as the album went on, and from needing to change the sound of the music to fit the medium. For engineers it was great, as it got the sound of the music the listeners were hearing far closer to the sound in the control room.

The audience had other ideas. The vinyl LP has a sound, based on the things that must be done to the music to massage it into the groove and then extract it back off, and people were pretty darn used to that sound. It wasn’t the sound of the MUSIC… it was the sound of the medium. Tricky.

Ever seen a 4K TV? I had to laugh the first time I felt detail overload watching something in HD. Of course I was seeing something MUCH closer to the way the people who created the art were seeing it. I just wasn’t used to it. I liked the softness of my old TV. But all along it had been lying to me. I had just learned to love the lie.

Today the physical containers have all but vanished. My Elements musical project is four hours and 40 minutes long (carefully packaged as four 70 minute “albums” for those that feel an affinity for that concept — including me). It can be listened to as one long experience, or many smaller ones. It’s up to the listener. It’s not up to the medium anymore.  

Freed from the constraints of the physical package, musical artists are finally able to stretch out and explore their ideas without any considerations beyond what the music wants to be.  

Sadly, this freedom comes at a time when most musicians have been liberated from getting paid when people listen to their music. And with Spotify “compensating” artists the same amount (the typical per spin payout is about a third of a cent) whether their song is 30 seconds long or two hours long… well, they’ve created a virtual financially motivated container… and people are rushing to release sub-minute material. 

It was actually this reality that set Mr. Cranky Pants here down the road that led to my Snapshots album… and I have to admit that the constraint of setting that one minute timer (see last month’s blog about that process) had a pretty powerful positive influence on the creative result. Who knew?  

So I learn, and as I embrace the boundaries and offerings presented by the various technologies in my life, I become a more flexible artist, I find more magic moments, and I surprise myself. 

My appreciation for Hipstamatic can be seen over on Instagram at tomeaton.ig, and of course all my musical musings, long and short, are on Bandcamp and all the streaming services.

Snapshots: The Piano and Me

I started playing piano in high school around 1985 or so. I’m not sure what led me to it, but from the very beginning I felt like sitting at a piano was an opportunity to collaborate, an opportunity to converse with a machine made only for expression.

My lessons hit an early dead end when it became clear that my teacher had little interest in feeling, something I learned later is very common in the world of classical music training. Getting the notes off the page and through the fingers was a process that seemed to bypass the heart entirely and I was having none of it. I quit my human teacher and started to listen to the instrument… and that’s when I really began to fall under the spell of music.

I just released Snapshots, my first solo piano project, and it got me thinking about my relationship with the instrument, and how much the music I make relies on the contributions of the piano itself.

Energy storage is defined as “energy produced at one time for use at a later time” (at least that’s what Wikipedia says). A typical piano has enough string tension in it to explode if the metal harp the strings are attached to cracks. There are literal tons of tension (18 or 20 tons seems typical) cranked into those strings via the tuning pegs in the massive wood pinblock. Each string is a tensed muscle of infinitely patient sonic potential. It’s amazing to consider how quietly an entity with that much raw sound-generating power can wait.

Fred Jones (the ascot-wearing Scooby Doo leading man) could not have devised a more bizarre and complicated mechanism than the one that comes into play with every key press. But, at the end, as the damper lifts and the hammer strikes the string… all that stored energy pays off. It was waiting for my teenage fingers. Or waiting for my teenage heart. Waiting to say its piece in response to my input. And over the years, at pianos scattered around music buildings, theatres, houses, and studios, I learned to ask and listen, ask and listen, while working out my demons or trying to heal broken hearts.

From the very beginning I felt that pianos were alive. I eventually realized that every time I sit in front of one it’s up to me to show up to the conversation and reap the reward for doing so. The right piano — and I’ve been fortunate to have access to a few that are VERY right — is a great therapist: always willing to talk, always responsive, and always understanding. Playing the piano taught me to be in the moment with my own feelings and those moments have sustained and healed me throughout my life.

During 2020 I inexplicably found myself with both some alone time and a piano, and, whilst pondering the eternal question of “what is the opposite of a bagel?” I devised a challenge of setting a one-minute timer and seeing if I could develop a meaningful idea in under a minute. During the process of this minor adventure I unexpectedly discovered that depth of feeling requires no particular time frame to develop, and that I could go deeply into a feeling much more quickly than I would have imagined.

The availability of my emotions has definitely changed over the years, as I get older and perhaps a little more reflective, but the power of the piano remains an essential part of uncovering my own truth. Like a catapult or a slingshot for each small idea… I begin and the piano suggests, I follow and suddenly there is music. We make it together.

When creating music for public consumption I have tended to wrap the piano in gauze and textures to keep a little mysterious distance between the moment and the listener. I have referred to the piano as the gateway drug to ambient music… the familiar sound that allows me to lure people into a world of fabricated sound.

But as I explored a solitary conversation with the energy of this instrument I’ve been playing every day since I was a teenager, I came to enjoy the directness of what we were making. The music is honest and spare, playful and melancholy. It shows two old friends playing catch with ideas and suggestions. It presents a kind of truth I haven’t put on record before. And so, apparently, it was time to do just that.

The 25 piano improvisations presented on Snapshots, released this week, are my favorites of the music that emerged from my one-minute-meaning challenge. Each piece is loosely inspired by fleeting moments in my life, and each piece began by me sitting at the piano and asking it “what comes after this?” as I put my hands down.

The Fragility of Flow

Roadblocks, the muse, and an unexpected descent into lunacy

My professional career has generally been one of removing obstacles to the creativity of others. I’m sure it was my theatre training that taught me to hide the nuts and bolts in the interest of creating a captivating illusion…and from day one in the recording studio I have always been intent on making the necessary technology as invisible to the artist in process (and audience at home) as possible. Nothing makes me feel less creative than discussing wire, sample rates, dither, or converters… as necessary as those considerations are to making good recordings. Good art seems to flourish when its creation is unencumbered and effortless. And in my experience nothing is more destructive to the ephemeral muse than an unwanted technical interruption.

Normally I have my own creative process sorted out and streamlined, but recently one of the speakers in my writing room gave up the ghost. Or at least became haunted. The treble came and went randomly, kicking me out of whatever moment I was trying to sustain (or arrive at in the first place). It was one of a few occasions in my life when I thought another me would be useful (moving the Hammond is also one of those occasions). When I can’t hear what I’m doing, I can’t make music. And, quite simply, I go crazy when I can’t make music.

Composing music in a computer is fine. Great, even. The flexibility of sounds and textures at my (literal) fingertips is endless (at the moment we won’t get into the question of why my music has a limited palette… that’ll be for another blog). But the music really isn’t IN the computer. The music happens when it comes out of the speakers; when the various drivers move the air in the room around and my ears say “yes!” or “dude, time for a walk.” So when a speaker starts to have opinions about when it will and won’t play… I can’t get at my art. Well, worse than that, really. I can start to get there and then get unceremoniously kicked off the path, like being awakened each time you fall asleep. There is no arrival at the immersive sense of “flow” and I can’t get my thoughts out. It’s genuinely uncomfortable. People whose instruments move air via vibrating strings or twisted up metal tubes (looking at you, Oster) don’t have this problem.

At these moments the technical me shows up to solve the problem. Internet research leads to sourcing, ordering, and installing suspect components. Great. But it doesn’t work. This goes on for longer than I care to admit. My tension/stress level goes up. The hairline visibly moves. Buying stock in Ben and Jerry’s becomes a serious consideration. No flow means no good me. Loss of access to my art means making art for others is harder… which is a bad place to be when all I really want is to help people breathe easier and fall with complete trust into every piece of music I work on.

I spoke with Larry, my new imaginary boss, and we decided that I could buy a new set of speakers. More internet research led us to discover how spoiled I am by my monitoring situation in the control room (a different room specifically set up for critical listening, which means not full of keyboards). Heated discussions ensued. I almost fired him and vice-versa. We tried to keep six feet apart which proved difficult. At the end of it all we settled on a two part solution with a third part. We bumped elbows and felt good about our efforts.

In January we installed part one, a pair of KEF LS50 “meta” monitors, on the stands amongst the keyboards. We listened to some music and were impressed. But that’s not the test. The test is the choices the speakers lead me to make when making sounds and setting levels in the process of composing. Late at night at the end of the month I fired up the whole system and made some music for the first time in a month. It felt good and I got lost in it almost immediately. The gear vanished, I arrived, Larry seemed satisfied and the air moved.

The next morning I took the piece into the control room and listened there as a mastering engineer, and, amazingly, there was nothing I wanted to change. I felt a wave of relief wash over me… and slowly the trust in the availability of my creative work is coming back. New pieces are arriving, I am forgetting about the technical and focusing on the musical, and I’ve not heard from Larry in a few days.

January 2021 News

My first monthly track for 2021 is a new piece called “in the shadow.” The lengthening shadows of winter inspired this slowly breathing study of darker spaces. I frequently move ideas between piano and guitar, and in this case the guitar made some choices for me and it decided to open the piece into a slow, modal exploration. It’s free and on Bandcamp now.

The recent loss of ambient pioneer Harold Budd really hit me, and this track is dedicated to his memory.

November News

A quick rundown of what’s been going on. The creative process during a pandemic… working remote, in person, and alone!

November 2020 Newsletter

Lockdowns and social distancing have created challenges and opportunities in a life of music making.  The process always ends here, with music coming out of my speakers in Newburyport, but the journey to get to this point calls for flexibility and creative thinking as working from a distance has become a necessary part of making art.

Lost in the Moment

I remember the exact moment last year when Peter Guralnick told me the title of his next book… we were sitting in my control room and I was in the middle of writing my new album. We were discussing why people make music… a process we each have deep perspectives on but from very different vantage points. The title, “Looking To Get Lost,” is as perfect a description of my personal process as I’ve ever heard, and, as it turns out, is a concept that has come up again and again in the thousands of interviews Peter has done with a musicians over the years.

Part of what draws me to music is the atmosphere around the notes, the feelings that the sounds evoke, and the landscape in which each piece lives. I’ve always gravitated towards textural music: music that doesn’t reveal itself fully, or at least rewards as deep a listen as you are willing and able to give. I always strive to create a world for each piece I work on: a place that is believable and trustworthy.

That can be a problem when the moment is so easily broken. The part of me that wants to get lost in the music is like a dog who can’t help but snap his head towards every possible squirrel. Maybe I’m spoiled by being able to listen to music in rooms that are actually quiet, but little anomalies (clicks, thumps, creaks, or anything not of the world of the music) break the spell for me… shatter the illusion of being alone in a place made of music.

I think that’s part of why I love mastering, actually, because I have the opportunity both to shape the final form of the world of the music for the listener and to remove any small events that break that fragile spell.

When I am truly lost in the music I know I’ve done my job.

Going deeper in is always rewarding. Peter’s Looking To Get Lost is out now…