Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beginning a Commentary on the Songs on "Giving Voice"

Because my first solo CD, "Giving Voice:  Guitar Explorations", has just been released, I thought I would start a series of commentaries on each of the tunes.  I hope this is illuminating....

1.         Into the Silent Land

The title comes from a wonderful little treatise on the practice of Christian contemplation.  I chose both the piece and the title to open the album as an invocation.  It is in the style of the formless meditative exploration called an “alap” that usually begins an Indian raga.  I wanted the listener to have an immediate strong sense of my particular musical voice and vision, to throw open the door on this particular musical horizon.  It is meant also to establish from the outset the importance of silence in music, both as underlying matrix and as the powerful “negative space” (a term from the world of art) in and around the notes.

The traditional Indian raga begins with an unstructured free exploration of the notes and melody of the raga called an “alap”.  The soloist meditates on the essence of the raga before the drummer (“tabla” player) enters and establishes the strict rhythmic cycle.  It could be said that in one sense ragas don’t actually begin at all.  The first one hears is always the sound of the “tambura”, the drone, which plays throughout the piece:  it connects the time-space to the universal cosmic ground out of which the raga, the play of incarnate life, arises.  So even the meditative alap is perceived to emerge out of this cosmic consciousness.

Each traditional raga is associated with a time of the day, with a season, with particular gods and goddesses, and also with particular emotional essences called “rasas”.   The clear and conscious focus on emotional essences and the place of these fragrances or aural landscapes in the spectrum of human feeling and consciousness is part of the great achievement of Indian classical music.  For my part, I also try to keep this focus.  This particular piece, then, is focused on the rasas of deep yearning and reverence.

Just in passing, I also wanted to note the echoes of certain themes of Rachmaninov that arose in the piece.  This kind of thing often happens in my explorations.

The piece was a pure improvisation, recorded in one take.  As an opener for the album, I liked that it “ends” (or rather rejoins the Silence!) in a rising movement at the close instead of a cadential falling motion, thus ascending to the dominant (5th of the scale) rather than the tonic (home base).


  1. Thanks.
    A good friend of mine (and musician) compared the opening notes to a kind of call to "Awake! Listen to this!"
    I really appreciated that observation, because it matched my own inner sense of the piece.