Making Means of Ascent

Means of Ascent was released in 2006 on Gears of Sand. Here are some notes on the composition and recording of the disc.

After recording Escape Velocity, I had made the decision to consolidate my rig even further and decided my next disc would be completed solely using the Roland Fantom S. Writing for what became the Means of Ascent disc started in August 2005. I had created a number of new sounds that I wanted to use as inspirations for some new pieces. I had been commuting into NYC via train and had somehow wanted to incorporate the concept of trains and motion into the music. The first track I wrote was In Transit, from August through December. I had recorded a piece with the same title years ago, but did not end up using that older tune as a starting point. At this stage, I was leaning toward this as the title piece as well. I wrote the drum line first, similar to the way I did with Plangent Bleating, but in a less linear fashion. After that I had mapped out the different solo sections and the sounds that would form those parts, and also decided on a few atmospheric bell-like sounds for the background. A key evolution in this piece was introducing the modulation for each solo section and the ascending clavinet line for the middle and end of the track. The soundscapes at the beginning and end of In Transit were written last as the track was finalized in January 2006, and tweaks to the mixing kept going for the next month. I had already decided at this point that while most of the backing tracks would be sequenced, the solos would be recorded live, so I spent the next two months while writing the rest of the disc practicing the solos, with a target recording time for the end of March.

The next piece to be written was originally called Stations, in keeping with the train and motion theme. It was meant as a complementary piece to In Transit. I already knew that these two pieces would open and close the CD, although I hadn't decided which would be the opener yet. While In Transit relied on improvisational lead lines, for Stations I wanted the leads to be a long melody line that was composed beforehand. I ended up with two that were played in sequence and then juxtaposed with each other in the tradition of other tracks I've done such as Shoal. This piece was worked on throughout February. Once the main part of the track was complete, I knew I wanted to have a long play out at the end using electric piano and mellotrons. I started working with a sample/hold patch and the electric piano sound as the bed, and added the Tron atmospheres. Then, I added the flute Tron solo, and decided to add a Moog solo sound over that, finishing with a slow fade.

About this time, the motion theme disappeared as I began formulating the idea for a longer ambient piece. I immediately renamed Stations to Proximity and decided In Transit worked better to start the CD, with a long piece in the middle. At this point I viewed the track, tentatively titled Mindspore, as an extension of the more atmospheric moments of Orbits, from Escape Velocity. I had also decided to have a Rhodes sound going in the background and fading in and out of attention. The first pass of writing ended up with two pad patches that created a nice, slow undulating sound bed, similar to the way two patches worked together to create the A Science of Forget/Blue Windings foundation. This first version had an improvisational electric piano line way in the background. Further versions kept the improv nature of the Rhodes, but added some swelling lead lines at other points to give the piece a more cohesive sound with a hint of forward movement. At this point, I had a complete 30-minute version that while interesting, still seemed too static by the end. I experimented with some other more metallic and wirey sounds and ended up having the piece veer back into typical Synthblock territory with percussion and melody. I originally had a couple of lead lines going on over this, but decided to try out two competing electric piano patches to keep the themes going from earlier in the piece, which ended up working well. Once the basic mix was complete, I decided to change the title and settled on Means of Ascent.

I spent the next few weeks of March tweaking the mixes and listening to these through various systems, small and large, until I decided it was close enough. The recording part went fairly quickly over a one-week period. Everything was mixed using the mastering effects in the Fantom S, which then went through its digital output and into a standalone CDR burner.

The first thought was to release the disc in 2007, but since it was done and there was the opportunity to have it available for the November 17 GATE gig, I agreed with Gears of Sand to release it in 2006.

In Transit and Proximity work well as live tracks. Since recording the disc, I've traded in the Fantom S for a Juno G and have been able to reproduce the pieces seamlessly on the new gear for live work.

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Go back to the Means of Ascent page.