Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Discoveries



One of my most recent music projects was a charity release for my beloved Discovery Park, located on the Puget Sound side of Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.  In short, it's an album-length sound collage of field recordings of an actual route you could walk around the park.  The entire recording is here to stream, with more information on the collage as an art form and the ways the release benefits Discovery Park below.


Over the past six years, Discovery Park has been a constant friend to me—I’ve spent hours running and walking, and exploring as many of the hidden trails as I can find.  I’ve written countless poems, lyrics, and brainstormed ideas I probably never would have come up with anywhere else.  I’ve seen birds and other animals I’ve never seen anywhere else in Seattle, and I’ve even had a chance to photograph a few.  I’ve always felt that, since it’s so large, well-maintained and diverse in environment, Discovery Park offers an experience unlike any other parks Seattle has to offer, and one that’s been an absolutely vital contrast to the bustle, crowds and noise of urban life.

With Discoveries, I wanted to recreate in sound the experience of exploring Discovery Park, so this summer I spent six days collecting field recordings of all of my favorite locations within the park and the vast range of different sounds you can hear when you’re there.  Then, in the modern classical tradition of musique concrete composers like Luc Ferrari and Chris Watson, I edited, layered and composed the recordings into an hour-long sound collage which, in the end, is made up of almost 50 discrete mono and stereo recordings.  Discoveries is organized as an actual linear journey you could walk on the park’s trails, starting and ending at the visitor center and traveling to all corners of the park.  Throughout the recording, you’ll listen to the birds waking up at dawn in the woods and by the pond, travel through long grass, tall trees, across the beach, over creeks, past the wastewater treatment plant, high above the shore at Daybreak Star overlook, across the Wolf Creek marsh and back through the woods during a characteristically-Seattle rainstorm.  I wanted the recording to really reproduce through sound the unique sense of place Discovery Park has to offer—listening to Discoveries, you can take the park with you wherever you go! 

My other goal with Discoveries is to not only recreate the substance of the park’s sounds, but also the feeling of being there.  There’s something magical about how it feels to sit quietly in a natural setting and simply listen to what’s going on around you.  Living in city, we get so used to the constant throb of mechanical noise that we have no choice but to tune out the sounds of our environment.  When you’re in a place like Discovery Park, though, the relative quiet allows your mind to decompress, and after a little while you start to realize it’s not necessarily quiet at all—there are thousands of different sounds all happening at the same time.  As a musician, I find that when you start listening to the sounds going on around you, there’s almost always something musical happening, whether it’s a randomly orchestrated chorus of birds, the ever-shifting rhythm of waves crashing on shore, or the layered texture of wind blowing through hundreds of leaves.  Stopping and tuning in to the subtle sounds happening around you can be not only be entertaining in a musical sort of way, but I think it can also be quite meditative in a way that clears your mind, helps get the creative process flowing, and inspires ideas.  It’s this feeling and experience I want Discoveries to offer as well.  It may not be quite as good as a trip to the park, but hopefully it can produce a similar effect.

As a thank-you to the park for all that it’s done for me and continues to offer the people of Seattle, CDs of Discoveries were offered for sale at a special “Pints for Parks” event at The Noble Fir tavern in Ballard on December 11th.  All of the proceeds from the event (including a dollar from every pint sold) were donated to the park, and any continuing proceeds will also be donated.  There are still a few handmade CD packages left, and you can easily download the recording for free or with a donation of your choice from the Bandcamp link above.  As with many other publicly-funded projects, Discovery Park has a small staff and relies on limited funds keep up with the park’s neverending maintenance and the educational opportunities offered by the parks department, so your support makes a very real difference in keeping the park around for many years to come!




Elliot Knapp - Field recordings collected with Tascam DR-05 digital recorders July 14, 15, 19, August 18, 29, and September 24, 2013.
Sound collage composed by Elliot Knapp October 22-25.
Mixed October 30, mastered November 1 by Justin Phelps at Cloud City Sound Studios, Portland, OR.
Album art by Courtney Morgan.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Anadromous



Here we are, just shy of a year since the release of Cheap Seats, to talk about the impending November 14 release of my next album, the all-acoustic collection Anadromous.  It's already available for pre-sale on Bandcamp, and you can also pre-order and support my other very soon-upcoming projects by viewing the Kickstarter campaign seen above!  Don't blink...the next album, Paraprosdokian!, will be out in December...


Anadromous has been in development since I was finishing work on Cheap Seats.  Where Cheap Seats attempted to state an abundance of ideas in structures as brief and elemental as possible with very little repetition, Anadromous focuses on storytelling over simpler, one-guitar arrangements and longer song structures with musical ideas that develop to be come subtly more complex and knotty as the stories unfold.  These songs come at a time in my life when I am on my way into adulthood but close enough to childhood that it's still fresh in my mind and dynamic in affecting my worldview.  Like an anadromous fish, I'm headed downriver to the ocean for adulthood, but always feeling the magnetic pull beckoning me to return to the stream of my origin.  I'm on my way, but I've got a few things to revisit first!

These heavily metaphorical narratives unfold with a sense of mystery and leave many questions unanswered, delving into supernatural phenomena and unexplainable occurrences.  For instance, the lead-off track "Nobody Saw" sees my fiancée and me transformed first into harbor seals, then into butterflies to disappear into a world of our own, while numerous other songs revisit the mythology of my childhood as dedications to family members.  Though it's punctuated by some lighthearted moments (like the poem in "Suspended (Omgoi)," which I wrote when I was 15!) Anadromous is a contemplative, somewhat spare album with typically intricate guitar work that reveals subtle development and evolution across the sometimes sprawling song structures.  While Cheap Seats sought to display the potential of thick layers of rock coloration and counterpoint, Anadromous seeks to find just how much you can say with one instrument and one vocal.  I hope you like it!
-Elliot

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fred Frith and Ensemble Modern: Traffic Continues



Although our man is credited as guitarist, this album plays more like a performance of Fred Frith compositions than it does like a "Fred Frith album," as we may have variously come to understand what they might sound like.  That said, the ensemble (which audibly sounds basically like classical instrumentation with a few subtle electronic elements) is fantastic, playing with virtuosity you'd expect from concert musicians, but also a zany freedom that firmly places them in a modern context.

To my ears the compositions start off very strongly with some brilliantly knotty orchestrations and a vaguely conventional harmonic aesthetic.  Evaluated through this type of lens, the disc loses some steam in the middle (around the beginning of "Traffic Continues II: Gusto", composed for and from audio samples of Frith's recently-deceased friend and Skeleton Crew bandmate, cellist Tom Cora) as it becomes more spare and quiet, then closes strongly with the final and longest track.  It may be true that the quieter bits require a different sort of criteria for evaluation and may succeed by those standards, but for me the act of readjusting what I'm listening for has so far proven frustrating to the extent that I'm usually left with a feeling that I just heard a recording with some great parts and some that merely passed me by.  I get the feeling that more effort could either yield more appreciation or a stronger sense that some of the writing is a bit too casual and reliant on free performances to carry the weight.  Either way, this is inarguably the kind of music you need to let act on you before imposing any kind of sweeping critical judgment.  Here's to more trying!

Get 'er.

Friday, January 25, 2013

John Fahey - City of Refuge


In investigating Fahey's late period, I'm sympathetic with the fact that he felt dead-ended stylistically and was struggling to move beyond his signature American Primitive tropes into something a bit more...different and new.  The issue seems to be just what, precisely, that new direction is, and Fahey's frustration is evident in the music.

In spite of its recording date, City of Refuge most resembles 60's Fahey records like Volume 6: Days Have Gone By and Requia, with equal space and volume given to acoustic guitar and field recordings, found sounds and electronic sound sources.  As with those other recordings, this approach either stands (Days Have Gone By) or falls (Requia, often) on how well those elements mesh with one another compositionally.  The disc starts promisingly enough with "Fanfare," which sees an unusually (for Fahey) overdriven slide guitar layered on top of droning, industrial electronic sounds not unlike those produced by Keith Rowe, especially in his solo works.  As the tracks play on, for me the impression builds that the compositions aren't very well thought-out, which is a serious stumbling block for an artist whose greatest strength is arguably his ability as a longform composer, not as an improvisor, which is what he appears to attempt on "The Mill Pond" and large portions of "City of Refuge I," plucking single notes against a throbbing background drone.  While the proposition of a more spare approach to his guitar style is intriguing, the results here don't feel particularly well-realized.

Elsewhere we are suddenly jolted out of the avant-garde soundworld back into more traditional Fahey territory, with guitar-only excursions like "Chelsey Silver, Please Come Home," and the dirge-like "City of Refuge III."  The former hints at a new compositional twist on Fahey's slide style, with abrupt stops and rhythmic interruptions, but again it feels like he didn't thoroughly integrate the idea into the piece, or maybe it wasn't an idea after all and the performance is just choppy!  Both songs seem to lack distinctive melodies or a feel other than "Fahey filler"--pleasant enough, but by 1997 we know what this man is capable of!  To my ears, "Hope Slumbers Eternal" is the best-realized piece on the album, blending a droning background that relates tonally to the minor slide guitar melody it accompanies, provoking an eerie, meditative atmosphere--most importantly, the electronics and guitar seem to combine coherently, which is mostly not the case with the rest of the experiments here.  The album closes with the 19-minute "On the Death and Disembowelment of the New Age," which, as far as I can tell, contains no guitar (though it does keep alive Fahey's tradition of humorously long and barbed song titles).  It's probably the most successful sound collage on the disc, but sitting at the end of a selection of noodly acoustic guitar pieces, it raises questions about what it's doing here, and why these songs all belong on the same album.  There is some cool rhythmic phasing of a tambourine-like sound that kicks in around the 12-minute mark and lasts for several minutes, and the album closes like it opened, with a classic Fahey field recording motif--a lonely locomotive whistle. 

This is the kind of album that really gets under my skin--not because I think it's bad, but because there's a palpable sense of frustration from an artist with specific ideas and a seeming incapability to fully realize them.  Probably more troubling to me personally is Fahey's frustrated attempt to break beyond his established vocabulary as a guitarist--for a man who reportedly described fingerpicking as a "disease," he must have felt more than a little trapped.  When an artist verges into atonal and pure sound territories, success seems to become as ephemeral as the compositional building blocks are abstract.  I find it daunting to explore these areas as the measure of artistic success depends even more on an unquantifiable gut reaction, and the difference between good and bad is painfully difficult to control as a composer--but perhaps that's where the adventure lies!  My next stop for late-era Fahey is another 1997 album, Womblife.  While my hopes for a successful application of his challenging ideas are tentative, even unsuccessful attempts in this territory are rewarding and always thought-provoking.

Get it here.