1. Sahara, 1909. From the album "In Search Of The Fantastic". Recorded 12/16 through 12/19, 2001 at Phantom Airship 6, Portland OR, mostly between dusk and dawn. Released 1/02. Instruments: acoustic percussion, 7-string guitar, whistling.
From an interview with Dave Aftandilan for Ink 19:
Q: "Sahara 1909" is one of my favorite tracks on Fantastic, with its kettle-drum percussion, dark grumbling proggy guitars, and lighter treated guitars floating on currents of sometimes gale-force windsound. It feels like a seriously weird trip back in time, which is sort of signaled by its title, too. What happened in the Sahara in 1909? What are you trying to evoke with this track?
A: I had originally intended to do a track around the idea of Aleister Crowley's trip to Bou Saada in 1909, during which he encountered the demon Choronzon, spirit of dispersion, while "scrying the aethers" -- a method of obtaining visions of increasingly higher symbolic realms through the use of Enochian magick. But then I thought that maybe that was too specific and that I shouldn't really tell people what to imagine. So even before I started recording I decided to come up with a few more scenarios around this desert motif, so that I would naturally produce a few more elements for people to work up their own interpretations from. I imagined various strange and terrible things happening to a military expedition. The Crowley story and the "expedition" motif were very present in my mind as I did the tracks. But the main things I tried to think about while I recorded were the time period, the location, and the feeling that something very intense and frightening and weird had happened. Ultimately I didn't want to get more specific than that. That's why it ended up being "Sahara 1909" and not "Bou Saada." "Sahara" is more general and I think more evocative for a wider range of people.
The melody that's whistled at the beginning just came out of me once the tape was rolling, and it felt almost like it came through me. I love moments like that, especially when they're part of a recording.
Notes, 2006: Every sound on this piece other than the percussion and the whistling at the very beginning was produced with the 7-string guitar, including the wind and insect sounds.
2. Interior (excerpt). From the album "intext" by Greg Segal and Chrissy Barr. Recorded 12/20/02 to 1/24/03 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 2/03. GS: environmental recording, direction and performance, electronics, household objects. Chrissy Barr: environmental recording, direction and performance, household objects. Instruments: All sounds on "Interior" were made by or modified from household objects. No traditional musical instruments were used.
Notes: This excerpt covers the end of the first section of the piece and the transition into the second.
3. Vallleyheart Bridge. From the album "Asleep Or Somewhere Else" by Eric Wallack and Greg Segal. Recorded 2/03 at Lazy "N" Ranch, Bowling Green, OH, and at Phantom Airship 6, Portland OR. Released 4/03. Instruments: Eric Wallack: acoustic 12-string guitar. GS: electric guitar.
Notes: Eric and I did this album through the mail. I sent him over half a CD's worth of tracks for him to add to, he reciprocated, and the result was something we are both very proud of. For this track, Eric responded to close to seven minutes of space sounds with something I never would have thought of, some absolutely haunting 12-string acoustic guitar.
4. Calling 1/Spontaneous Knowledge. From the album "An Awareness Of Frameworks". Recorded 1-5/03 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 1/04. Instruments: recorder, guitar, bass, electronic and acoustic drums and percussion, bowed device.
Notes: This is the only instance on this compilation where I've used two tracks to represent an album, and I've taken the liberty of moving them together into a tight segue. If I'd had the technology to do that at the time it was released, the whole album would have run like that. (A future remaster may take care of this.)
5. The Eye That Shines In Darkness, Part 7. From the album "The Eye That Shines In Darkness". Recorded February, May and December 2003 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 2/04. Instruments: bowed device, effects.
Notes: Up to this point I'd been happy that I'd been able to capture the bowed device on a number of recordings. It's a fragile instrument and I'm never sure if the next time I pick it up will be the time something major on it ceases to function. That said, it occurred to me I might really enjoy the challenge of doing a whole album using nothing but it and effects. "Eye" came out of this.
6. Standard, pt. 1. From the album "Standard". Recorded 1-5/03 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 3/04. Instruments: guitar, bass, electronic drums, loops.
Notes: There is an underlying story on this album, suggested rather than explicit. It deals with the old problem of individuality in a conformist society, and the saving refuge of the imagination. The concept of the perfectly functioning machine is the social model. The cyborg references can be taken either literally or metaphorically. I wanted the music to reflect all of this.
7. The Hero As Pantry, Part Three (excerpt). From the album "The Hero As Pantry". Recorded 1-5/03 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 4/04. Instruments: vocals/word jumbling, tapes, effects, cymbals, recorder, electrical buzzing.
Notes: I'd wanted to do an album that centered around spoken word experiments. The results struck me as funny, so this was planned for an April release (the April Fools' joke of the '03 series). One reviewer (Aural Innovations' Jerry Kranitz) actually found the title pieces to be often times surreal and disturbing (in a good way). It must just come naturally, I guess.
8. Planet Of Garbage, Part One (excerpt). From the album "Planet Of Garbage". Recorded 5/16-17/03 (overnight) at Phantom Airship 6. Released 5/04. Instruments: household objects, disposables, acoustic and electronic percussion, tapes and tape manipulation, effects, fretless guitar.
Notes: The idea for this album (originally intended to be just one piece) came to me probably six months prior to recording. I imagined a world covered in trash, so many layers deep that you could dig trenches into it 15 feet high and not reach the actual surface. And in fact in these trenches were shelters for the few people managing to survive in this environment. Harsh winds, full of particles of industrial waste and poisonous vapors, blew constantly. Was this an asteroid used for dumping? Or was this the future of the earth?
When it came to time to actually record, I found that no one piece seemed to capture all the things I wanted. The climax of part five (and so the climax of the album) was how the original single piece was intended to end; everything else is scattered over the other four parts.
The technical process for recording this album really ought to be told, but can wait until the album itself has its own notes page. (I hope to do that for all the albums over the next year or so.)
9. Episodes (excerpt). From the album "Episodes". Recorded throughout 2003, with additional tracks 5-6/04, at Phantom Airship 6. Released 6/04. Instruments: electric and acoustic guitars, bass, electric and acoustic drums and percussion, recorders, household objects, tapes and manipulation, delay, vocals, effects.
Notes: This piece began its life as a spinoff experiment from the one that spawned "intext". The intention was to do a tape full of segments of interesting sounds, then use it to feed through the pedalboard at random over various pieces. But the original source tape suggested an order, so I decided to try to use it as one large piece. One pass through the pedalboard produced less than interesting results, so two additional tracks were added. (The first two being the direct tape source and the effected send from the pedalboard.) Still, the results were less than spectacular. I debated whether or not to release it, and whether it could somehow be saved.
During the release of the '03 series, I was finally able to make the jump to digital recording. Suddenly I had unlimited tracks and incredible editing possibilities. I also had a program with a manual the size of a phone directory and about a month and a half to learn it and make "Episodes" work. This involved massive overdubs and a great deal of learning on the fly. I did finally end up with a piece I was happy with, even if I might do it differently today.
Before release, I considered the idea of calling the piece (and so the album) "Episodes Before 12", because I thought it suited the sort of childlike playfulness and strangeness that runs pretty strongly throughout it. As a piece of autobiographical music, it would have worked well. And of course, people might have also thought of it as "Episodes Before Midnight". But I thought the shortened title left still more to the imagination. And here I go spoiling it all by telling you what I was thinking.
10. Mutation Night. From the album "Adventures Of Forever And Nowhere". Recorded 1-5/03 and 7-12/04 at Phantom Airship 6. Released 12/04. Instruments: guitar, bass, electronic and acoustic drums and percussion, delay, gopichand, bowed device.
Notes: The "one a month" schedule of the 2003 series disappeared after "Episodes", and I was determined to make the most of my new opportunities. "Adventures" got more work put into it than anything I'd done up to that point.
"Mutation Night" is the longest piece on the album, a sort of mini-suite that encompasses a lot of other elements which are scattered throughout the CD. The main theme (head and tail) is actually a dissonantly minor version of the theme of "Transformation Day", a piece from earlier in the album.
The underlying concept suggested by the song titles involves an adventurer tracking the interplay of strange apparitions and visions out of time, UFOs, extinction and evolution.
And if you're not interested in any of that, don't worry about it. Just ignore it and enjoy the music.
11. Someday They'll Talk About This. From the album "Rivers". Recorded January-May and late December '03 at Phantom Airship 6, and September-November 2005 at Phantom Airship 7, Portland OR. Released 12/05. Instruments: mandolin, acoustic guitar, vocals, electronic and acoustic percussion.
Notes: You may notice there is a year's gap between the release of "Adventures" and "Rivers". Sometime life outside of art demands your attention and there's no getting around it. It was all good stuff, I promise.
As "Rivers" has been received so well, I know there will be some people who will wonder why I have chosen to include such a short track for this compilation. It's because I think it's an appealing and representative enough chunk to draw people in and make them want to hear more.
"Rivers" started off life as "Charting Rivers", a short and somewhat incomplete musical tribute to the work and adventures of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed civil war vet who was the first man to lead an expedition succesfully down the length of the Colorado River. But as I worked to expand the album beyond its barely 30 minutes, I found the music had other ideas, and soon I was producing variations on the main themes that sounded alternately Greek or Middle Eastern (not reflected in the track chosen here). So I was forced to reconsider the concept. Why would someone choose to risk his life charting rivers? What did it mean, what would drive someone do it? In its new conceptualization, the album expands beyond its original western theme of quietly sad and restless searching, and becames a journey through the rivers of the world as both metaphor and symbol, in conjunction with real river trips and the ruminations that might occur. Su Shih's philosophical take on his trip over the Yangtze comes to mind, for example (and also inspired several song titles). Rivers run through all the world's mythologies, with good reason. They are a source of life, and early civilizations developed along them; and a source of danger and death as well. A core part of the album remains rooted in the concept of seeking, and so this is yet another search for the fantastic.
12. A Play Of Light And Shadow. From the album "A Play Of Light And Shadow". Recorded January-May at Phantom Airship 6 and December '05 at Phantom Airship 7. Released 1/06. Instruments: acoustic guitar, bass, recorder, electronic and acoustic percussion, delay.
Notes: This album was inspired by the Noh plays and their formative mythology, by Japan's wonderful ghost story traditions, and by the reflections of such things- diffuse or direct- into modern life.
13. Stains. From the album "The Old Familiar Place". Recorded January-May '03 at Phantom Airship 6 and January-March at Phantom Airship 7. Released 3/06. Instruments: bowed device, clarinet, delay, acoustic and electronic percussion, electric guitar, fretless guitar, effects.
Notes: "The Old Familiar Place" is a musical impression of a haunted house, its history, and its search for fresh company. I chose this track because I thought it represented creepiness in both an abstract and a melodic way; both approaches are spread throughout the album pretty thoroughly. There is also a sort of jazzy quality that surfaces a lot, represented here by the clarinet.
14. When Every Day Is Yesterday. From "Tales Of Today Will Be Tales Of Long Ago". Recorded 1-5/03 and 3/5/06 at Phantom Airships 6&7. Released 6/06. Instruments: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, acoustic and electronic percussion, recorder, vocals, bowed device.
Notes: While perhaps not the most representative track from the album, I feel this is representative of the quality of the album as a whole, and worked ideally to end both "Tales" and this compilation.
"Tales" is the most referentially autobiographical thing I've done out of all the phase two work. The last two tracks (of which this is one) takes us away from that, although this track does tie in as a sort of thematic relative to the title track, and finishes the whole concept where it must actually end. The underlying theme of the album is something that's fascinated me, for good and bad, my whole life: how today turns into yesterday, and how memories stay on. The realities of the present eventually become internal ghosts, are shared as stories, leave traces as artifacts. Everyone takes this journey, a journey beyond our control. Every time we look, we find ourselves further downstream, like it or not. We know that eventually in the flow of things, even memories and artifacts fade and dissolve. All we are, and all we have known, inevitably become a part of yesterday. In the meanwhile, as we watch it all slip by like the shores of a river, on our way to who knows where, we think back, and remember.