Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dancing Snakes

Here is the entry about Dancing Snakes, and here is the link so you can listen while you read:


Next to "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat," I think this is my favorite piece on the album.

I wrote this just a few days before recording. It is just a simple bass line.

We recorded the bass line first, along with the drone box (yes, we used an electric tamboura, as my actual tamboura doesn't have a great tone for recording...) After that, I doubled the drone with the didgeridoo.

Dugg added the drums on a clay dumbek.

After all that was done, I attempted to play the melody line on the sitar. I kept trying and trying, and juts couldn't get the sound I wanted. So I went to my old standby, the bansuri.

I play the bansuri a little different than most: My teacher was from Northern India, and so uses the fingering from there, which is 2 fingers down for the root. I have never met another bansuri player who does this. Everyone else seems to use the Southern Indian 3 fingers down for the tonic method.

The benefit of my method is that you can go all the way down to the 4th (MA,) which gives a little more flexibility to the improvisation. On pieces that use a natural ga (major third) you can actually bend down to that note, as well. This piece uses a natural minor scale, so I don't get to do that.

This piece is in E. The E bansuri is just a little big for my hands, so I struggle with it at times, and am glad that there are only a couple of suspect notes in this piece. The bansuri I use most often in in F# (or E for those Southern Indian players...)

I like the energy of this song, too. Dugg and Dick really seem to drive it without rushing it, and we must have had the mics in the right place, because the drum is very intense.

Here is what the bansuri looks like:

And this is the dumbek (one like it, not Dugg's actual one...)

A Confidant of Merlin

A Confidant of Merlin

Here is the link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


This is another piece done on the penny whistle, and written in Omaha, again using sort of a descending pattern.

We started out as a Celtic street band, and there are several songs that sort of have a Celticish flavor to them.

After not playing the penny whistle for quite a number of years, it was fun to pull this one out again. There is a bit of a Northern European tribal feel to many of the pieces on this album.

The penny whistle is meant to play in D major and G major, and has tiny, tiny holes, which makes half-hole playing quite difficult. So, for whatever reason, I almost always find myself playing in D minor with some awkward half-holes. I'm not quite sure why...

Dugg chose to play this piece on the djembe, and has a solo in the middle.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Here is my article about track 6 of the new "Walking Eagle" album.

Here is the link, so you can listen while you read:


Fortitude is an example of a lot of the experimental tracks I mess around with when trying to combine unlikely sounds to come up with something unique and interesting.

This track features the didgeridoo:

This is a "Hicks Stick" aspen didgeridoo made right here in Colorado, that has a great tone.

It also features the khomus, also known as the jaw harp, jew's harp, or any of a number of other names:

I got my first khomus in Junior High School, so I could make funny sounds for a movie we were making. Years later, when I found myself at a music conference in Kyzyl, Tuva, I learned that this was a very legitimate instrument, especially in Central Asia and Siberia, and that there are virtuosos on this instrument. Google Vladiswar Nadishana, if you want to see a true master!

The main other sounds are two styles of Tuvan throat singing, a style of singing more than one note at a time that I studied 20 years ago, and then let go dormant. This recording was made when I was just getting back into some throat singing. The low style is called kagyraa, and the higher style is khoomei.

Dugg added some drums on it to bring it together.

We just thought it would be fun to include some of our more experimental sounds on a CD that is largely pretty tonal.

Still Light of Day

Track number 8 on the new Walking Eagle CD is "Still Light of Day."

Here is the link, so you can listen while you read about it:


"Still Light of Day" is another of the pieces written in the hotel in Omaha, where I spent a week with a keyboard, a computer and a bag of flutes, and cranked out about 15 songs , about half of which made it on this CD.

This song is based on a simple, descending line, and, to me, sounds very European.

This is one of the simplest songs on the CD, but, as they say, simple is often better. Dick just recorded the pattern as a loop, I improvised a melody on the Irish flute, and Dugg decided to add shakers and the rainstick.

Not much to it, really. Here's what the Irish Flute looks like:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Implicit Memory

This is the seventh installment in my blog about the new Walking Eagle CD.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


I "wrote" this piece two years ago. I was in a phase of listening a lot to the group Oregon. I have always loved their music, and especially Ralph Towner's use of interesting chords. So, I got a piece of chord diagram paper, and worked with my guitar to see how many Ralph-Towner-like chords I could come up with. I came up with about a dozen.

Then I didn't know where to go with the composition. So one day, when Dick came over to practice, I just handed him the chords, and asked him to play through them while I improvised. Dick did that, and added a lot of his own chords.

This song became known as the free-chord piece, and, apart from starting with some of the chords on the sheet, it is completely improvised.

While recording, we often play one part at a time. This allows for clean recording, editing, and if we work on one track at a time, if we make a mistake, we just rerecord that part,

"The Implicit Memory" works based on the interplay between the musicians. Dugg wasn't available the day we recorded, so Dick and I did several takes of this piece, playing together, Dugg added the cymbals later to fill up some of the space.

We enjoy playing this piece, since it is different every time.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cavalcade of One

This is the sixth installment of my blog about the songs on the new Walking Eagle CD.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


This odd little, hybrid instrument in the duclar - which is the Armenian duduk with a clarinet mouthpiece replacing the traditional double reed.

I wrote "Cavalcade of One" in a hotel in Omaha, along with about 15 other pieces. My inention was to create some stand-alone guitar parts over which I could play different instruments from my collection. This song was originally written for my Prayer Rock (also known as Anasazi) flute. The Prayer Rock flute is a recreation of an ancient American, endblown flute. It was modeled after fragments found in the desert of Arizona, at Prayer Rock, that are believed to be over 1,000 years old.

In this picture, the top flute is the Coyote Oldman Prayer Rock flute. The bottom one is the Coyote Oldman Desert (also know and Mojave) flute.

I wrote the piece in Ab to accommodate the flute, but found that the song was much too upbeat and jazzy, and the slow-responding desert flute didn't work.

I searched my collection for another instrument that worked well in Ab. The duduk plays well in A - and the clarinet mouthpiece option causes it to play a half-step lower. Perfect!

The guitar part I wrote swings because most of it is played off the beat. It creates an interesting syncopation, but is very tricky to count. While Dick was recording it, he was extremely careful to play it accurately, and we got some very good takes of it.

After he left, however, I realized that in our care to play the piece precisely, we had recorded it at about half the speed it was intended. I tried working with the track as it was, but it was just painfully slow, and defeated the point of the song.

We recorded it in Logic. Logic does not have a good tool for changing the tempo.

So, in the middle of the night, it dawned on me - I would take the song to Garage Band, which can easily change the tempo, and then save it as a loop. So I doubled the tempo, and used it as a loop back in Logic. It seemed to do the trick. It was also easier to swing the duduk with the clarinet mouthpiece, so that all seemed to work out well.

Dugg added the final track on the bodhran. Dugg plays the bodhran probably in the ancient way. He does not use a tipper, just his hand. It gives a softer sound, and he better able to play unusual rhythms this way.


Hello. This blog is about Trigonometry, the song and not the math...

This is the fifth track on the new Walking Eagle CD, "Walking Eagle."

Here is a link to the track, so you can hear it while you read.


This is an older piece I had started and came across in some notes. I completed the piece in the months before the recording took place.

I initially wrote it as a vehicle for the shakuhachi, however, when we recorded it, it just seemed to progressive for the shakuhachi, so Im played it on the soprano sax. The part that created the challenge is that the chords modulate from a D minor tonality to an Eb minor tonality. I thought I could do this by dropping the jaw position on the shakuhachi, but it didn't work too well. Plus the beat is pretty driving, and the shakuhachi is a lot more effective in a mellower setting.

So, the soprano sax is my usual go-to instrument in times like these, and it works pretty well.

I wrote two parts for the backing track on this. I intended them to be played both on the guitar, and figured we'd use a looper in a live situation. We recorded the two layers of guitar, and it sounded too muddy, as both parts are written in a fairly close range, so we left the rhythm part on the guitar, and I played the counter-part on the keyboard. Dugg rounded it out with the djembe.

Not much else to it, really.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Desert Run - Contrabass Native American Flute

Hello, and welcome to installment number four in my articles about the songs on the new "Walking Eagle" CD.

Today's article is about "Desert Run." Here is the link to listen, if you dare:


There is always a song on the album that I wished wasn't there. This is that track from this album. It really has to do with the recording.

Here is the Contabass Native American Flute, by Collin Peterson.

This flute is about 4 feet long.

The problem with this flute is mic-ing it for recording. If the mic is too close, it picks up all the wind and squeaks it is proned to. In order to avoid that, I set the microphone a little too far away to pick up the warmth of it. I tried to correct it in the mixing, and thought I had it fairly well with my high-end studio headphones... and then I forgot the first cardinal law of recording - mix it so that it sounds good on the worst speakers someone is going to listen with. It doesn't work at all on the little computer speakers most of us listen with these days. I didn't eve realize this until I was listening to it after it had been put on download sites.

But, apart from that, this song was written just before recording. The contrabass flute is in C minor. For some reason, I always find it challenging writing for pentatonic scales, but I did come up with a decent progression.

Dugg developed this method of using shakers and the rain stick when we were working with my first Native American Flute, 15 or so years ago.

Otherwise the recording process was uninteresting. But I am going to have to think about using this flute on a recording again. I'll have to be more diligent about experimenting with mic placement.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Summary of All Things

Hello. Welcome to my blog about the new songs on the "Walking Eagle" album.

The group "Walking Eagle" is composed of three of us who have played together for almost 20 years. We have explored many genre of music from fusion jazz to punk rock to folk to Celtic to flamenco to Australian, Native American, free jazz, and just about everything in between.

Two years ago, we reformed our "aggressive world-beat jazz" group 'Before the Rain' into a trio focusing more on the acoustic elements of world jazz. We released an album at that time called "Returning to my Village." The album was largely based on The Native American flute, with a few other flutes and saxophones tagging along for good measure.

This year we have released our second album that is more probing, and uses a larger variety of world wind instruments.

"Summary of All Things" is the third track on the album. Here is the link to listen to it while you read:


The penny whistle was actually my first world flute. I got ahold of my first one in Scotland in the early 90s, (along with a set of bagpipes.) When I returned to the US in 1992, Dick and Dugg and I started playing Celtic Christmas music. That eventually led to a more varied catalogue of Celtic music, and our first name as a trio "The Cornerboys."

in 2011, my wife had to spend a week in Omaha, studying at a university. I tagged along, and spent the week mostly in the hotel room with a keyboard, a computer and a bag of flutes. That week I cranked out about 15 songs, many of which are on this album.

"Summary of All Things," originally known as "guitar piece 2" was one of the first pieces I wrote that week.

I was interested in writing guitar accompaniment pieces that could stand up on their own, and then added flutes to them. This one had sort of an Elizabethan feel to it, and so seemed to call for a Northern-European/British type flute, and returning to the penny whistle for the first time in well over a decade seemed very natural.

This particular flute is a plastic susato D whistle. I usually play wooden or tin whistles, but the plastic one has a sharp tone that records a little better. I did try several whistles before choosing to use this one.

Dugg pulls this piece together with a driving djembe beat. I had envisioned it as a bodhran piece, but Dugg definitely made this work better.

I also definitely pictured all these pieces being played on the acoustic guitar, but Dick kept forgetting the acoustic and brought his electric guitar, so they are all played using electric.

The Lotus of Mt. Ararat - Armenian Duduk

Hello. Welcome to my little blog about the songs on our new CD, "Walking Eagle." Today is the second track, "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat."

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen to it while you read:


The duduk is an ancient instrument from Armenia, that is thought to be over 3,000 years old!

 It is a double-reeded instrument. Here is a close-up of the mouthpiece/reed.

I have always loved the duduk, since it has one of the most mournful sounds of any instrument. It is deep, earthy, and sad.

Even though I loved the duduk, It has a reputation for being an immensely difficult instrument, particularly in terms of the reeds. I finally broke down and had one made for me in Armenia about a year before we recorded. It was extremely difficult to play in tune. Finally, I ended up misplacing the reeds I had for it. In a panic, I ordered some reeds from Amazon.com, figuring they would be low-quality...I just couldn't wait for the two months it takes for the mail to arrive from Armenia. But surprisingly, the reeds were great, and with these reeds, I could play the instrument in tune very easily!

I wrote the chord progression for this piece only a day or two before we recorded it. The progression just sort of came to me while I was playing around on the piano. It took less than five minutes to develop, yet I believe it is one of the best progressions I have written.

So I had a great progression in F# minor, but not many instruments that play in F# minor. I could always go to the sax or flute, but was trying to emphasize the world instruments on this recording.

Then it came to me: The duduk is normally played in A, the tonic having all but two fingers down. But if you close all the holes, it plays F#, and the minor scale is fairly basic from that point.

When we recorded the album, Dick, the guitarist, spent two days recording the backing tracks, normally recorded as loops, and a third day recording solos. Between times recording the guitar tracks, I would play the melody tracks on the world instruments. Dugg came in at the end and added percussion.

I gave Dick this new piece to sight-read, and after a few times through, we recorded it. I knew the duduk part in my head, but never did write it down. I recorded it later in the afternoon. Dick then added one of the nicest solos he has ever played! Dugg pulled it altogether with the djembe. 

Of all the songs we have ever recorded, this is one of my favorites!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Overtone Fury

I have decided to write a little blog about the songs on the new "Walking Eagle Album." I will just write about them in the order they occur on the album, and tell a little about the instruments and backstory of each song.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:

Overtone Fury

The first song on the album is "Overtone Fury." The lead instrument on this is the Slovakian Overtone Flute, also known as the konkovka.

As you can see, the overtone flute has no finger holes. This confuses people a little bit.

The way it works is that there is an existing phenomenon in physics called "the overtone series." It is best described with stringed instruments, but the same principles apply to wind instruments.

With a stringed instrument, if you pluck an open string, you get a note. If you divide the string in half, you get the octave of that note. If you divide it again, you get the interval of the fifth. The the fourth, and the third, and so on. With a wind instrument, the same overtones occur in the same sequence in relation to how hard you blow into the instrument.

The overtone flute can generate two series of harmonic overtones - one when the end is left open, and another when the end is covered with the hand.

After playing with this instrument for a while, I found that it lent itself to some pretty showy, fast playing, and decided that this would work well with an accompaniment of a rather funky bassline.

I wrote the bassline in a hotel in Omaha about nine months before we recorded it. I wanted something that had a bit of an irregular beat to it, so it is asymmetrical in it's pattern, followed by a symmetrical pattern for the bridge,

I recorded the bassline first, using a synthesizer, and planned to go in and replace it with an electric bass at a later date. The truth of the matter is that I was never able to play the bass guitar as well as it worked on the keyboard, so the synthesizer part remains.

When we play this song live, Dick plays the bass part on the guitar, but for the recording, we tried that, and we liked the lower sound better, so Dick, instead, played a fast rhythm part.

We recorded most of this album in the early spring, when Dugg, the drummer, is exceptionally busy at work, so, he came in one afternoon and played the drum part for all the tracks. He recorded this one using a clay dumbek.

After all the backing tracks were laid-down, I recorded the flute part. It is entirely improvised. I recorded several different takes, and then chose the one I liked the best. I believe it was the first take that we finally went with.

Tune in next time for the story of "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat."