This is a compact little piece recorded on a recent gigless Saturday evening. Not as restless anymore like I used to be.
Recently I released the full version of Trail Mix, a suite of original pieces for seven string classical guitar. The fourth movement was the first piece I wrote specifically on and for the seven string. It’s a nice, melodic piece of music that developed itself out of the two opening chords. 5000 Miles of Dirt is the title of that movement which was inspired by a walk in the woods behind my mother-in-law’s house in Germany, on a short trip to Europe in 2007. It was November, no snow yet, relatively warm. I had walked my old, well-explored trails from when I still lived in Germany. But I took one wrong turn and then got lost. This was late afternoon and the sun sets early in the Swabian Alps in late Fall. After losing myself deeper and deeper I encountered a power line and decided I should follow it back to civilization. It was a successful strategy, except that power lines don’t usually follow a road or trail and this one mostly went straight across muddy fields. I eventually found my way back to the house – two hours late and with very dirty boots.
Surprisingly, I was able to find the mediocre recording I made of the fourth movement years ago. Often my classical guitar skills are lagging just a bit behind the music I compose. This commercial release contains numerous corrections, much more practical page turns, and two versions of each piece: one in just standard notation the second one standard notation with added tablature. While I am not a proponent for tablature per se, I think it makes sense to record fingerings that way.
I finally finished my most ambitious and complex big band arrangement so far. The two words “ambitious” and “complex” can only mean one thing: this contraption will probably never get played. But then, who knows. My friend Brent Wallarab, who directs the IU Jazz Ensemble, played two of my earlier pieces this past season and both of these were somewhat “ambitious” and “complex”.
This one has a long history of revisions and false starts. It started out as a sketch in 15/8 meter, received a “B” section (that’s the sing-along part) and the epic six bar solo vamp based on Bm11, C#m9 and Dmmaj7 which made it’s earliest appearance in a piece for 7 string classical guitar called “Trail Mix”. It was written early 2012 for “Splinter Group” and played live once or twice, but nobody really knew what do to with it – least of all I.
After I had my first successful encounter with big band arranging via my German friend Lothar Landenberger in 2014, “South Central Indiana Rain Dance” seemed like a worthwhile and rewarding big band candidate. I started with way too many chords and wrote myself into a corner. For testing drum grooves and flow I had done a little recording with guitar and sequencer. I liked the tribal nature of the tune, but just wasn’t able to translate it into big band sounds. Then, as so often, other stuff came up and the project slipped towards the bottom of the to-do stack.
After my first big band arranging experience in 2014, when I arranged a full concert’s worth of my fusion originals plus some Pink Floyd and The Police material, I thought I was done arranging. While the concert in October of 2014 was a great success and I really enjoyed my two days of fame as frontman, composer and arranger of almost all of the music, after I came back to Indiana it was an anti-climax.
My friend Lothar, who had talked me into doing the arrangements in the first place, started bugging me again a few months after I was back home in Indiana. Somehow I didn’t feel it and I didn’t hear from my friend in a long while. Then, in January this year (2017) Brent Wallarab emailed about my arrangements. Brent is one top notch writer and arranger who (unlike me) knows how to do this stuff. He was interested in some interesting big band music for his Indiana University Jazz Ensemble – and they would even pay for the charts. He ended up picking two, “Bajao do Banana”, which had been played at the Tuebingen Jazz & Klassik Tage 2014, and “Alice’s Cool B***s” which is a piece that was originally recorded on “The Rise of Kwyjibo” and then got a big band treatment to become the grand finale of the show. But it never got performed because we ran out of time.
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), 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.