I freely admit that many, if not most, of my earlier writings for classical guitar are simplistic, juvenile and banal. On the other hand one has to start somehow somewhere and I am glad that I held on to all of this material and didn’t put it in the garbage disposal of creative outbursts. As of this writing (February 2017) the first of the Pulvermann Empires is just about 40 years old – reason enough to publish the entire four part series.
One of the stand-out properties of my 40+ year music career has always been a deep interest in music that is used in science fiction movies (in other words: sounds mysterious, ominous, and ambiguous.) I can’t remember where that name Pulvermann came from – I don’t think I ever knew. But as you can tell by the front cover of The Pulvermann Empires it could have something to do with a base on the Moon? The British SciFi series UFO from the early 70s was one of my favorites – and I suspect their moon base had an influence. So had the music of that same TV series (especially the ingenious creepy soundtrack during the ending credits), and early Pink Floyd and countless other space sounds that hit my ears.
Obviously a classical guitar is not the first choice to produce such music. But it was all I had in my first few years. And while I liked to play Bach and Bossa Nova on my cheap guitar, I had little knowledge to write anything in these styles – I tried, and most of that did end up in the trash.
One of the reasons I am glad to have held on to all of this early music is because it often shows how early certain musical ideas – melodic fragments, chord voicings and progressions – pop up. Of course you could say this about pretty much any artist’s work.
So here is The Pulvermann Empires, all four parts of it.
The Time Flies is a brand-new chapter of a style of music I thought I had out-grown almost 20 years ago.
From the time we had relocated to the US from Germany in 1988 to about 2002 my wife Monika Herzig and I had a “fusion” band called BeebleBrox. That band went through many different incarnations, recorded eight albums, played countless good and bad gigs, opened for big name acts such as Santana and Sting. Both of us were obviously trying to work out serious encounters with the music that popped into our lives at an early age. Artists like Weather Report, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin pulled our emotional strings. BeebleBrox was our own version of the music that became known as “fusion”. BeebleBrox tried but over it’s 14 year lifespan it never quite took off and never quite died.
But BeebleBrox finally met its end at the 2002 Indy Jazz Festival with a great performance. Then we had kids. Monika wanted to pursue acoustic piano jazz. The band members moved away……
For many years I had my own fusion oriented groups, Kwyjibo, which recorded one great little CD. After Kwyjibo imploded I had a Splinter Group. We never recorded, we had few gigs even though it was a great band. But that also went away and with it my interest in “fusion”.
I realized that I had spent decades of my life re-imagining (some would say copying) the music which powered my early years. It was relatively easy to discover ‘new’ music now. And to find that there is a lot of great stuff out there I never knew of because of my fixation on my own thing was…. strange.
However, Monika had been mentioning a BeebleBrox reunion. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. While I am proud of a lot of the music we recorded back then I didn’t feel any particular desire to re-experience those days. Then, in the Summer of 2015, fateful events were put into motion by a longtime friend of ours in Germany. As a longtime Bob Berg/BeebleBrox fan he thought that the three tracks Bob had recorded with BeebleBrox on our last album Dominant Domain in 1997 had never received the recognition they deserved (Bob Berg used to be one of the jazz saxophone greats, right along with Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer, and we paid him to play on three tracks). Our friend from Germany, Lothar, wanted to re-release these three tracks.
Lothar’s thought was to put the three tracks from 1997 on one side of a vinyl album and have a new version of BeebleBrox record a few new tunes for the second side. He had lined up a few of the top notch german sax players to record the new tracks and thought we would also use a german bass player and drummer. At that point everything was still floating around. In February this year (2016) Monika and I started to take this project serious and started to pick out tune candidates. I had located the original source tapes from the 1997 recording – on ADAT. While transferring the tracks to my computer I realized how dated the music sounded – Bob playing was stellar but the band was barely hanging on. Did we really want to re-release this? At least we could remix it and match the sound with the new tunes.
The next step came when we recruited two musician friends, drummer Josh Roberts, who had played with both Monika’s and my projects, and Quinn Sternberg on bass, highly recommended by Josh. One cold March evening we met in our basement to read through the tune candidates for the Summer recording. It felt and sounded great. Jokingly we talked about taking the material and go out as a band and play a few gigs – and maybe record one of the rehearsals.
All of that happened. The band name “The Time Flies” had been buzzing around between Josh and me for a while. All four of us were enthusiastically on board and we played a nice string of gigs, booked some studio time in early June and put down the tracks to have something on record. In the BeebleBrox days recording was a stressful experience for me; endless hours of pressure with the guitar never sounding the way I wanted it to and the band never really playing what I heard on my own tunes. The Time Flies recording session was really only intended as a good documentation. Little pressure. Everything sounded great. The guitar sounds worked. The band played so much better than I could have ever imagined. Good enough to put it out on CD.
The name The Time Flies is also fitting in that basically the band had a built-in expiration date because Quinn was going to move to New Orleans and Josh to New York after the Summer.
But the story doesn’t end here. Through some masterful organizing Monika was able to locate funds to take Quinn and Josh to Germany for the recording that had started the whole thing. We recorded a few new tunes with the German sax players. The recording engineer pointed out what I had been saying for months: The original Bob Berg tunes didn’t hold up to the new material. The sound couldn’t be matched and our 1997’s musicianship just didn’t compare. So we re-recorded new versions of the three tunes – keeping only Bob’s superb playing. This album is scheduled to come out in a limited vinyl edition in Germany later this year.
FQRD stands for Frozen Quasi Random Doodlings. I wrote about it in detail when I first posted the un-edited version.
Now it’s an official publication. Ten very strange and challenging exercises for guitar in standard and TAB notation. Just because I wrote these doesn’t mean I can play them, yet. But I hope to be able to record these in the coming months.
Since the release of my last recording, Peter’s Money, in 2009 I had no desire to record ever again. Not because the making of the record was a bad experience, but because none of the CDs sold. I know I am not the only artist with this problem but that was a personal breaking point.
Peter’s Money never got a CD release party. Mostly because it was close to impossible to gather all the players from the recording for a concert, and because most CD release parties for previous projects had been embarrassing disasters.
Peter’s Money did one thing for me and my musical career: When I wrote and arranged the music, being able to perform it live was not on my list. The music is better for it.
And here then is a NewNow. It’s music I have always enjoyed recording and listening to. It’s also hard to describe. If you take all the instrumental interludes from pre-Dark-Side-Of-The-Moon Pink Floyd, especially the spacey, weird stuff from Ummagumma, mix it up with my personal space music favorite Steve Roach, add inspirations from various SciFi movies and books by one of my favorite authors, Iain M. Banks, you are in the right quadrant.
….or something like that. This week I finished a collection of the strangest music I have ever written. Tentatively called Frozen Quasi Random Doodlings or FQRD.