UBU: 32 Days of Balance

The Clips

I am starting this blog with sound clips, so you can listen while you read (or if you don’t care that much about the artist/process stuff). The first clip is the first several minutes from one of the pieces. The second is an edit from four different pieces.

Day 13 (sample)
Sampler of 4 different pieces from UBU: 32 Days of Balance

When working on a new recording, an artist has to decide why exactly they want to record this particular collection of songs. Sometimes these are the songs that come to them. Sometimes they have a theme, like Christmas songs. Sometimes they write songs they believe people expect from them, or that they know they can sell easily.

Well, I don’t take the easy road here. I decided to release 32 pieces of music in one collection because I believed that what was being sold as meditative music didn’t quite do that job for me. I regularly use music to sleep, and there were either repetitive sounds, overly dense arrangements, or environmental sounds added to the composition that didn’t add to the experience for me. I needed music that evolved over time, that had a similar sound, but nothing too obtrusive. I continue to use Brian Eno’s Ambient albums, and Chuck Wild’s Liquid Mind series, as these are closest to what I had in mind. A guitarist isn’t the first choice to put out a massive collection that doesn’t use distortion, power chords, rockin’ solos, and all of the other trappings of a guitar-based solo album, and that is precisely why I avoided those things.

So, tired of complaining about the fact I couldn’t find the music I needed to wind down from the day, I decided to write it and record it myself.

This set consists of 31 15-minute pieces (with an extra bonus one) designed to listen to while getting ready for the day or winding down from it. They could be used for sleep, meditation, yoga, etc- a different one for every day of the month. The bonus day was used for an unrelated commercial while wrapping up this project. It is very different than the other 31 days, but I decided to include it anyway.

The Gear

To understand how I recorded this, you might have to understand how I’ve recorded ambient albums in the past. I used a combination of guitar synthesizer (a device that uses samples of electronic and orchestral instruments), signal processing of a normal electric guitar signal, and a special pickup on my Brian Moore Custom Guitar (called a piezo) that can sound like an acoustic guitar. I would send these signals to a mixer and then to the best looping device ever made, an Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro.

A single Echoplex

The Echoplex was built in the mid 90s, and was mono. So stereo signals collapsed into mono, and were sent out of my mixer’s aux out to return back into a channel of the mixer and mixed with (stereo) live playing. The biggest development, gear-wise, of the UBU project is that I was able to find a second working Echoplex, which can be sample-synced to the first one to provide stereo. So my loops could finally capture the left-right swirly-ness of the sounds I was using. It is very important to me that the audience can’t hear the difference between live playing and the loops, and with this second Echoplex, it was possible. While the Echoplex is pretty old, it does some things that no current looper can do (and looper manufacturers don’t even think about).

I also started recording using my trusty guitar synth and a great early 90s Roland synth, the M-GS64. After 17 of the 15-minute recordings, I took a break for about a month and listened back to what I had. While I liked the synth I had recorded, it wasn’t terribly different from what I had recorded in the past. I used familiar compositional techniques, and built my loops in a similar way that I had before. So, I scrapped these recordings (don’t worry, I will use them for something!), and decided to radically change the gear and method in which I recorded.

I decided, for the first time in 20 years, and the first time on recordings, to not use the guitar synth. The sounds would be purely manipulated electric guitar sounds, but I then had to figure out what that means to this project, as well as to my ears.

My Fractal AX8

The device I used was called the Fractal AX8, and it essentially provides computer models of vintage and modern effects and amps. So instead of plugging the guitar into an effects pedal and then an amp, I use this magic box and create sounds using a computer editor. I built most of my sounds from scratch, while downloading and modifying a few more. The sounds are hardly identifiable as a guitar (this was the point), and further modified with long reverbs and pitch transposers. These sounds are output in stereo to my newly stereo loopers, and the output of those loopers went straight into my computer for recording (no mixer). The DAW I used to record was Steinberg’s Wavelab Essentials. So to come up with new music, I had to come up with a different way of making it.

The Method

I started looping in the early 80s using reel-to-reel tape decks, and later, long delays. Looping is a lot more popular now, and you generally hear someone build up a loop and play over it. But to make new music, I wanted to approach things a little differently. I wanted the loop to constantly decay over time. One of the problems I had with contemporary loop performance is the repetition. And repetition is one thing I wanted to avoid in my performance.

Tracktion Waveform was used to record the last track, which is very different than the rest.

The loops I built were maybe between 10-20 seconds, and would repeat about five times before they were inaudible. So I had to continue playing, constantly adding to the loop. Now if I closed the loop, and played over the top, it would gradually disappear over a minute or so. If I kept the loop recording while it decayed, it would constantly change. To me, it is like being a kid and sitting in the backseat of the car on a long trip (before devices made that bearable). You see cars, people, cities, trees…the same things, but it is never quite the same. This is the feeling I wanted to create and capture with these recordings.

Sometimes I used 2 or 3 loops at once, that were not rhythmic, and didn’t sync up in any way. The sound of them blending together, never quite the same, was interesting to me, and quite a challenge to make them work together musically.

Oh yeah, they were also recorded in one take, live. A few didn’t make it- there were technical problems, or I played something I didn’t intend and I couldn’t recover them. But all of these (save for Day 32) were recorded live. Many of them were also live-streamed on Facebook as I recorded them.

The Release

The music business has changed a lot. It isn’t viable for many artists to get CDs manufactured, and I don’t know many people that actually listen to CDs anymore. To the artist, CD manufacturing is expensive, and boxes of these things take up a lot of room! Also, releasing 8+ hours of music at once would require a box set of 9 CDs (!) and until record companies start paying artists again, that ain’t happening. So the decision was made to release this whole set digitally, as a single release. Releasing a normal album this way isn’t too hard: record, copyright, pay a company to get it to your favorite download and streaming sites. But it isn’t that easy, and there are a few steps to take, especially with something this size.

The guitar I used for recording is a custom Brian Moore C-55PM

To start with, most services that will make your music available through streaming services, downloadable files, and via YouTube don’t know what to do with a release of this size. Several of these services just flat-out declined. CD Baby worked with me to get it released, and now I know how to deal with other long-form releases I may have coming up.

The fun part of being an artist is creating the music. Unfortunately, a modern artist has to learn about a whole bunch of stuff that has to do with the business of music, and not the music itself. From promoting, to designing websites, booking shows, publishing, distributing, album art, etc…it all falls on the artist these days. Very, very few of us have a team of people to do these specialized tasks. However, the more an artist knows about the business side (and it is always changing), the more control the artist has. When we can finally pay people to help (or be lucky enough that someone else pays), we can understand the task. This is ultimately a great position to be in, but not so fun when you are trying to figure out why a menu doesn’t work on your own website, or trying to get ISRC codes to the Copyright Office.


Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind

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Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind

This is a release I made that consists of 14 hours of music presented on a DVD. The DVD includes video, a recording blog, many pictures and details about the process of putting together such an expansive release. There are 14 one-hour pieces of music, with a few more mp3s thrown in the multimedia section.

The idea is to have an hour of sleep/meditation/relaxation music each day for 2 weeks, so no repeats. The music is performed on guitar, guitar synth, and loops, but I consciously avoided any kind of rhythms or repeating patters. The result is long, flowing passages without sharp transitions, and perfect for quiet times. A one-hour sampler was produced for those not ready to engage with 14 hours of music.

Personally, I’ve used music to help sleep in the past, but rhythms and transitions would be startling, so I decided to take those out.

The original DVD pressing is sold out, but I am looking at ways to digitally release at least the 14 hours of music as one package. Traditional online digital retailers are not quite equipped to deal with such a project!

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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.

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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.