My Favorite Ambient CDs

Ambient music isn’t for everyone, but it is a great way to slow the mind down. It is also so fun to play, as I an’t rely on ‘stock licks’ and massive amounts of gain. It all is very slow, and evolves over time. Here are my 2 favorite ambient releases, like, ever.

Brian Eno’s Discreet Music

Discreet Mu

This album comes in 2 parts, but what I really like is the composition called Discreet Music. Composed of super simple 3 note melodies (at the most) weaving and overlapping, this is not a constant loop. It is a slowly evolving loop over time, and this is what caught me, and set me using loops the way that I do. As these simple melodies come in and out, I could almost hear what they should be before they were played. A brilliant piece of modern composition using primitive synth tones, it takes time to understand exactly what is happening here, which is why I think it is so brilliant.

Fripp & Eno’s Evening Star


Add Brian Eno’s ambience to Robert Fripp’s angular, sustaining guitar and you have a win-win from me. Side 1 works better for me than Side 2, but there were really no rules here about what this music should sound like at the time. Yes, there are some guitar solos here, but they are more beautiful than shocking. We can hear how how loops build up, and how Eno manipulated them as they were played. It is difficult to work with someone this closely who gets what you play, and is sensitive enough to lift the whole thing up higher rather than push you out of the way. We can hear this here. The cover photo is the perfect idea of what you will hear.


The Journey of Learning

Embarking on a lifetime with music isn’t for everyone. It takes discipline. It means realizing you will never be satisfied where you are, and more concerned with where you aren’t. It means making time for practice and creativity in our busy lives.

And it is a lot of fun.

Guitar players have it easy. It isn’t like the stereotypical piano lessons, with the stern teacher hitting your wrists with rulers if the hand position isn’t perfect. Modern guitar playing has no real methodology. For every ‘correct’ way of doing things, you can find 100 guitarists who not only have achieved some sort of success, but play very very well despite the fact that the way they play is ‘wrong’.

So, what is right?

Well, to me, what is right is based on the effort it takes to accomplish. I teach about economy, or, not working too hard. Guitar playing isn’t about strength, it is about dexterity. It is about moving only the amount you need to accomplish a task and no more. It is about recognizing where we hold tension in our bodies. And it is about the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

That last one, that is sometimes the hardest. We don’t like not knowing. Especially as adults, we don’t like feeling that we don’t know things.

That last point is a big one. Certain personalities are more suited to learning than others. Since guitar lessons (at least with me) are not always about playing a piece you have practiced, we have to be ok with making mistakes and learning from them.

No guitarist steps on stage or records without preparation. It is unfair to compare ourselves with what we hear or see. So, we practice. We make mistakes, and some terrible noises along the way. We get up, dust ourselves off, and one day realize that we make less mistakes than we did before. So things get better.

Keep that head down, take a baby step. Don’t keep wishing we are at the top of the mountain because we saw some rock-guy-flavor-of-the day who seems to be there (he isn’t). Funny thing, no matter how many years we put into it, we only realize that there is just so much more to learn. And we have to be OK with that, and even embrace it.

This kind of person makes the best students who will carry music and creativity with them forever.

It is the Parents that Make Children Better Students

It still amazes me about some parents who bring their children to lessons, that they haven’t fostered any type of appreciation for music themselves much less with their children. The children of these types of parents do not even know what a guitar sounds like, much less what it is capable of, or the rich history of guitar-based music. These are the hardest students to teach because they are not even quite sure why they are there. It is really the parents’ job to foster an appreciation for music throughout the child’s life, so the child really wants to be there. This can simply be having music on in the house or car a lot, to taking the child to see concerts and other performances, to regularly singing songs to or with your child.  In truth, all of it is important, and a child is more likely to work hard on something that they enjoy doing with their parent.
It is a great thing for a parent to be involved in as well, either sitting in lessons to understand what I teach, or to learn alongside their child. Then they have something they can do together.

Supportive, interactive and music-loving parents make the best environment for learning.

Generative Music Apps

I love Brian Eno’s concept of Generative Music. Music that repeats, but never the same way. In other words, we set it in motion and it randomly generates. It usually focuses on a few keys, but it is something I can listen to hours. It is kind of like looping, but the patterns never repeat exactly. Several loopers playing a piece together might be closer to the concept, but doesn’t describe it exactly. Eno encourages musicians to use these music generators in their own compositions either on record or on stage, and I certainly intend to.

I love all 3 of the apps he offers, and I recommend them all. They are perfect for falling asleep (they include a sleep timer- yay!), or just on in the background when you read or work.

This is so hard for me to describe, so I will repeat some of the description from their website:

“Part instrument, part composition and part artwork, Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualizations.”

This is my favorite, because it is like artwork as well as a music generator. You draw on the screen, it makes music from your shapes, and it never repeats. From the website:

“Darker in tone, Trope immerses users in endlessly evolving soundscapes created by tracing abstract shapes onto the screen, varying the tone with each movement.”


This is essentially some sort of ambient piano and voice music generator, although I tend to mix out the voice sometimes- it is limited to just a few notes. This is an interactive app as well that allows you to conduct the music, in a way. This would probably sound really awesome with multiple players playing at once, but it works well on its own, too:

“Air features four ‘Conduct’ modes, which let the user control the composition by tapping different areas on the display, and three ‘Listen’ modes, which provide a choice of arrangement. For those fortunate enough to have access to multiple iPhones and speakers, an option has been provided to spread the composition over several players.”


Scape is really my favorite one here. It learns, and reveals more of itself as you use it. You place geometric shapes on the screen, and twist them around. The more you play with it, the more shapes are available to use, and the more sounds you get. Each Scape plays for a time, them stops, but you can make playlists of your favorite Scapes. Beautiful stuff here.

Read more about Brian Eno’s generative music apps here.

Some Looping Devices I Use

Many loopers available allow you to switch between loops, so you can make an entire song over pre-recorded verse/chorus patterns.

This isn’t the way I use loops though. While this idea might be fine for a 1 man band situation, or rehearsing ideas, it is the live manipulation of the loop which starts the creative process for me.

Record some sound, add more to it, slice it up into pieces while playing live over the loop, fade and repeat.

I need loopers at least capable of fading the loops with a foot pedal. Sadly, many manufacturers of looping devices just see looping as an afterthought for many devices. That, or, they focus on the ‘backing track’ idea, where you are jamming over static loops.

I need a little more control than that. Ideally, you can have a ‘feedback’ control on any looper. This allows the original loop to fade slowly while new material is played over it. The whole loop morphs into something new as we listen- which is a lot more interesting than listening to static loops.

I use an Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro for this, which was the king of commercially available loopers, even before the current crop of looping pedals came out. The Echoplex allows you to record, reverse, slow down, sync, fade, multiply and split loops like nothing else currently out there. It is really an instrument in itself. I use this for all performances that are exclusively looping, since the manipulation of the recorded sound can be as subtle or as jarring as I want. The huge fault of the Echoplex is that it isn’t stereo…so for stereo use, you need 2.

For other looping shows, I sometimes use a Line6 DL4. This green delay pedal is a fantasic basic looper, which allows expression pedal control over the loop volume, so I can fade the loops manually while playing live material overtop. I have owned the Line6 M13 as well, which duplicates the functionality of the DL4 and adds a bunch of effects as well. Since another project I am in uses in ear monitors though, I had to sell my M13 for a Line6 POD HD500 which includes all the effects of the M13 with added amp modeling.I still own an M9, which I really like.

Sadly, they didn’t add any kind of expression pedal control to the HD500’s looper volume (even though it was in the DL4 and M13) so  I can’t recommend it as a live looping device for the looping musician. This continues to be a source of frustration, but I have been told it will be addressed in a firmware update. We’ll see.

EDIT: They never added it, and didn’t add it in their new Helix. Instead, I bought a Fractal AX8.

I also own a Boss RC2, which is great for working out ideas, but doesn’t work for me as a live looping device because there is no way to fade the loop using your feet.

Gradually I hope to move to using a computer-based system, using the VST Mobius, which is a very powerful looper. My initial experiments with Mobius were very positive, as it is like having 8 stereo Echoplex Pros.

Below is a simple acoustic guitar loop, with the Line6 DL4.


Collectives: What does it mean?

Here are some notes about my Collectives project from a few years ago:

Guitarist and composer Dave Eichenberger has completed a unique project called Collectives. Simply put, this collection consists of 50 CDs which each hold an hour of improvisation. Each CD is completely unique, and has its own artwork as well as date and time of creation.
Each CD also contains a multimedia section which features over an hour of bonus audio, a video, artwork, and an extensive journal documenting the project.

The opening for this 50 CD series was on Friday November 3rd, 2006, at the Progress Energy Art Gallery in New Port Richey. 

“The idea of improvising for an hour straight might be considered a silly one, until we consider doing that 49 more times afterwards,” states Dave. “I thought of the discipline of a visual artist, who might sell a painting but not make prints- the artist lets go, and the lucky fan has something that is uniquely theirs.”

The CDs contain improvisations consisting of guitar, guitar synthesizer, and looping. Looping is a process of recording segments of sound, and repeating them, while adding to them and manipulating them in real-time.

And if I thought it had been done this way before, I probably wouldn’t have tried.

Releasing 50 hours of music at once is something I did in my younger days, when I didn’t care that you weren’t supposed to do that. I recorded on a minidisc, released them on tape, and sold them at live performances. I used these recordings to learn about my instrument, my looping devices, and how to structure an hour-long improvisation.

So why do it again?

Well, its been awhile, more than 10 years since I have attempted such a thing. I think the purpose was the same: to test the bounds of creativity, and to learn more about the equipment I use to make this music.

I will tell you this…I am no longer afraid to start pushing buttons during a performance.

But why ‘Collectives’? What do all these crazy names mean?

Honestly, I have always liked words. I like strange words you usually have to explain. I never thought ‘The Troubling of Goldfish’ should sound like goldfish, although I am suprised at how sometimes the names reflected parts of the recordings. Generally, the songs were recorded, and the names added later. I didn’t think the name or sound of an animal should steer me in a dparticular direction musically.

These new recordings were more labor-intensive, better quality, and more rewarding in the end.

When an artist uses up their stock ideas, what is left? I didn’t know, but I wanted to find out. It could be just reassembling those idea in a different order, or it could be some new ideas altogether. I worked really hard to not just change the order of my ideas. I did lots of research, learned new chords, scales, and all that music theory stuff all musicians should be drawing upon. I listened to a lot of different music, and forced myself to not play the same patterns I had been playing.

In the creative visual art world, the artist isn’t as concerned for ‘making it big’. There is much creativity, and, with the end expectation level lowered, they dream up wild ideas and regularly make them a reality.

In the music world, we have access to more people. Sadly, more people can ‘get’ music before they understand visual art. However, the expectation level is high, and we musicians are constantly compared to our peers, and usually are asked ‘Do you sound like anything I have heard before?’.

Being a musician, I really dislike being in this situation. If I stay true to myself and play what I like, I risk a life of obtuse obscurity. If I play what they want me to play, I get the love, the chicks, the money. I have jumped between both worlds, and I have to say, I’d rather keep my soul.

Playing improvised music that has really no base in modern rock, blues or jazz (but is certainly modern, being that it couldn’t have been made 15 years ago) presents many challanges to this musician. Describing what I do is hard enough, much less finding a venue for it. But I’ve always had hope.

I know there is a huge gap between ‘rock star’ and ‘lazy musician’ and I am determined to live between that world of fake opulence and drama-laden despair. Outlets for all types of music are out there, it just takes a little more digging to find them.

Guitarists, especially, tend to play in patterns. They might move the patterns up and down the neck, but they are the same. I find myself doing this all the time. This leads to boredom, and a really unsatisfying creative life.

And in the end? I have to say I feel like a better musician after all of this. I also made a terrible racket, and had a lot of fun.

– Dave
Monday, Oct 9, 2006

The names of the CDs are taken for the name of groups of animals.

“It apparently isn’t good enough in the English language to say ‘a group of goldfish’. The proper term is ‘A Troubling of Goldfish’. Yes, I had to look all 50 of these terms up too,” says Dave.


List of Collectives CDs:

1. The Troubling of Goldfish
2. A Lovliness of Ladybugs
3. An Array of Hedgehogs
4. The Exaltation of Larks
5. A Kettle of Hawks
6. A Cete of Badgers
7. The Seige of Herons
8. A Blessing of Unicorns
9. A Convocation of Eagles
10. A Quiver of Cobras
11. The Deceit of Lapwings
12. The Flamboyance of Flamingoes
13. The Business of Ferrets
14. A Rookery of Seals
15. A Cowardice of Curs
16. The Wisdom of Owls
17. A Smack of Jellyfish
18. A Confusion of Weasels
19. The Richness of Martens
20. The Sloth of Bears
21. The Unkindness of Ravens
22. A Mob of Emus
23. A Raft of Otters
24. A Mutation of Thrushes
25. The Shiver of Sharks
26. The Mustering of Storks
27. A Leash of Greyhounds
28. The Labour of Moles
29. The Scurry of Squirrels
30. The Pitying of Turtle Doves
31. A Prickle of Porcupines
32. A Flutter of Butterflies
33. A Pounce of Cats
34. The Cry of Hounds
35. A Brace of Quail
36. The Pladge of Wasps
37. A Bale of Turtles
38. A Grist of Bees
39. The Charm of Goldfinches
40. The Scold of Jays
41. A Gulp of Magpies
42. The Skulk of Foxes
43. A Steam of Minnows
44. A Pandemonium of Parrots
45. The Obstinancy of Buffalo
46. The Paddling of Ducks
47. The Rhumba of Rattlesnakes
48. The Lamentation of Swans
49. A Battery of Barracudas
50. A Husk of Hares

The Collectives Project was proud to be sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

It is the Sound That Matters…

So many guitarists work on technique these days, and I am no exception. I mean, the mechanics of playing- flying up and down the fretboard at faster and faster speeds. It is a young (mostly male) thing, no different than the runner trying to be the fastest or the weightlifter going with a few more pounds.
However, concentrating all of your practice time on just getting faster misses the point. Not every song is fast (that gets boring), and it ignores the tone of the notes created.
The tone is the thing for me. There are some seriously fast players out there, known and unknown. After listening to many of the mp3s and seeing tons of videos, I realized that most of them ignore the obvious: is this a sound that anyone would want to hear?
Believe me, I love making irritating noises as much as any other musician. But a guitarist who just makes irritating noises probably won’t work much, and drawing from such a shallow sonic pool, will repeat him/herself quickly.
Tone is subjective, but identifying when a musician ignores it is not. Everyone has bad days/bad gigs…with unfamiliar gear or some gear that is acting up. But if a musician is consistent in their lack of attention to tone, it shows.
Now, I know not everyone can afford the latest boutique amps and overdrives (either can I: I am a musician after all). But it starts with a guitar and an amp. If you can’t get a clean sound to be fretted cleanly, all the distortion in the world won’t cover it up. The process starts with one single note, and then two.

Gear selection is a big subject: most people buy what their heroes have, in hopes it can help them sound just like their heroes. This works as we are learning, but the failure is to not break off of that course and find our own sounds.

Now is one of the most exciting times to be a guitarist: we have multieffects, programmable amps, and guitars that stay in tune without us doing anything. Problem is that most guitarists buy these and have no idea what they do. The idea of reading a manual is an impossible task, and understanding just one parameter (like setting the ‘sustain’ on a compressor- we want a lot, right?) sends the technophobic guitarist reeling and dismissing the good ol’ amp and cable approach. Nothing wrong with that, since lots of guitarists do fine that way. But arriving there because you can’t or won’t read the manual of the expensive device just bought is sort of..silly.

So the tone search is a lifetime one, for the guitarist. It isn’t like we never get there, but we constantly evolve. And it is fun. The goal is to sing to others in our own voice, because we have something to say. And what our own voice sounds like makes them want to listen. Hopefully.

Company Affiliations

Much of what I do and how I make my music wouldn’t be possible without the help from these companies:

  • Steinberger: I am a Gibson Artist, and am a fan of any of Ned Steinberger’s designs.
  • Seymour Duncan: I use their pickups exclusively, and also write a blog for them.
  • Brian Moore Custom Guitars: These are the guitars I use for the ambient/guitar synth work, because they have internal hex pickups.
  • Graph Tech: I am a Graph-Tech Artist & use their TUSQ nuts and String Saver Bridge Saddles.
  • Ernie Ball/Music Man: I was featured on Ernie Ball radio, and they gave me some custom picks one time for being the last person featured in Mike Varney’s Guitar Player Spotlight Column. I also love their guitars. Sterling Ball signed my guitar (along with Steve Morse) and is a great guy.
  • Warmoth Guitar & Bass Parts: This company helped with a blog post for Seymour Duncan, and helped me create a wonderful Strat.

My Origins with Looping

Looping is just the repetition of small bits of sound, somehow manipulating that sound and then playing live music over the top. The original version used magnetic tape actually taped together to form a loop. These days, it is done digitally, with loopers able to record up to several hours of material.

I originally got into looping from incorrectly hooking up a reel to reel recorder, feeding the output back into the input, when I was about 12. It repeated, and got louder, and more compressed, and smeared into this wall of sound with every note I played. At this point, as a guitarist I had never heard of Robert Fripp, much less his Frippertronic tape-loop system. It amazed me to find out someone had made recordings of this stuff.

Later on, I discovered Fripp & Eno’s ‘No Pussyfooting’ on tape. Then Fripp’s ‘Let the Power Fall’, and eventually my favorite looping recording, Brian Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’.