The COVID-19 pandemic alone was enough to make 2020 a hellish year for so many of us. So many thousands of loved ones have been lost.
Our cultures have lost so many musical heroes (whether to the virus or otherwise): Neil Peart, Lyle Mays, Joseph Shabalala, Eddie van Halen, Little Richard, Florian Schneider, John Prine and Harold Budd are just a few of the more familiar names to me, but there are so many creatives who will be missed by so many admirers.
A lyric line of Neil’s is more apropos than ever: We could be down and gone, but we hold on… Hopefully, by summer, we will be able to return (at least in part) to our familiar pre-pandemic lives.
That said, change – with its challenge to adapt and grow, or perish – is always with us. Whatever the circumstances, what can a composer do – other than compose? The artist’s role – to share visions of truth and beauty – remains unchanged, and is arguably even more needed in times like these.
Living mostly in lockdown, and working my day job at home for most of the year, freed up a lot of time, and I tried to make the best of it. As a result, 2020 was my most prolific – and in personal terms, most important – year for composition.
Releases – Prolificity I
The year got off to a fast start, with two releases in the first five weeks.
My duo with Mathias Grassow, In the Eyes of Infinite Light, was two years in the making. The “lost pieces” collection, We Once Were Lost, featured work going back to 2005. Both releases were an absolute joy to put together, with pieces like Epiphany With Horses and Gypsy Girl in Paris signaling aspects of a new musical direction.
Along with the Sea of Fertility EP, a collaboration with my friend Chako, all of this work was completed before 2020 so, in one sense, this year’s relative flood of releases was largely clearing the cache (and the vault).
Finally, the new tribal piece Solace of the Elders led off Radio Spiral’s compilation Ambient Aid for Australia. This hugely-satisfying effort was another pointer to an important part of my future sound world.
Composition – Prolificity II
Composition-wise, Solace of the Elders got the year started, right after work was completed on In the Eyes of Infinite Light and We Once Were Lost.
A second album with my Memory Palace collaborator Chris Russell is taking shape. I’ve sent him my parts for six pieces, two recorded in 2018, the others all written in September. If he likes them all, we have an album’s worth of material. So far, he has finished his parts on three of them.
Work on the tribal/vision-quest album Carving in Shadows, which has been gestating since 2012, began late in the year, with composition of its opening and closing pieces being finalized, and the opener getting a final recording. The album’s other two pieces are 7- and 3-part suites, with one of those parts in progress.
However, the biggest Composition News this year (and, probably, of my life so far) is the guitar symphony After the Sun. Written in March and April, in just 29 days, this 8-part epic might just fit onto a CD. It needs four musicians, a mixing/effects engineer and a dozen instruments for a live performance.
Much more importantly, After the Sun isn’t the ambient soundscape one might expect to hear from eyes cast down. There’s one section with those vast-sounding chords reminiscent of First Day Apart or Radha’s Tears, but the rest is mostly melodic lines and arpeggiated chords – not very ambient.
I have wistfully referred to it all along as my “ECM Album”, as it sounds much more like something from that label (and wouldn’t I love to see them release it!). At this point, I’m not sure whether I’ll release it as an eyes cast down album; it may need to be under my own name instead.
Schrodinger’s Cat Has Left the Box
Composition of After the Sun broke me out of the Soundscape Box, into which I had willingly stepped in 2004. It reminded me that I have always wanted to explore other musical worlds. Writing this piece was apparently the key to that particular wing of my memory palace.
Unusually, I didn’t undertake recording After the Sun right away, for two reasons. First, working from my usual scribbled notes wasn’t going to get it done for this project. There’s way too much going on. To enable my own recording (as well as live performance by others), a proper score (notation and tablature) is needed, which is a huge undertaking. That is still in progress.
Second, I decided that this was a good time to write some vocal pieces. Some of these have been waiting for years, and some are new ideas. Three have been completed: Kyrie and O Remember Me (Like Unto the Sun) for choir, and My Agitated Heart, for choir and strings. The last is a revision of a song that I’d thought was finished in 2001. Five others are in progress or in line. I set myself the task of completing all of these before allowing myself to record After the Sun. We’ll see how that resolve stands up through 2021…
Classical Guitar Sabbatical
Another direct consequence of writing After the Sun is that, this summer, I rediscovered my love of classical guitar, and resolved to undertake writing for it. This will mean setting aside recording and other composition, so I can give the guitar full attention, study the masters and begin to find my own way. “Masters” includes the great Spanish and Latin American composers, J.S. Bach, and guitar heroes such as Ralph Towner, Eric Tingstad, Pat Metheny and Steve Morse.
I expect this to take at least a year, and I hope to produce some viable study pieces for beginner and intermediate students, before moving on to works intended for master players.
Return of the Son of Just Intonation
Whenever I return to the eyes cast down project, I have plans for two albums in Just Intonation. My Gatherings performance in 2017 included an early version of one of those pieces, though it wasn’t yet in JI.
That is the extent of my plans for the time being. When all that is done, we’ll see if the eyes cast down project has anything more to say.
Of course, I’ve learned from experience to look askance at plans, as they have a way of changing without even asking me! But, what the hell. Onward!
Galactic Travels Feature
A singular honor this year was an Artist of the Month feature on Bill Fox’s weekly streaming program Galactic Travels. Bill featured me in September, playing the albums The Separate Ones; Memory Palace; Souls Adrift, in Disrepair; and The White Island.
Other significant recognition came from Darrell Burgan (Palancar), a veteran fellow musician and the host of Radio Spiral’s program Blue Water Drift Dive, who has so generously supported my work all along. Darrell included my album We Once Were Lost among his favorites for 2020, alongside some great company including Robert Rich, Forrest Fang and C. Paradisi.
Lucette Bourdin Website
When I learned that the late Lucette Bourdin’s former website at lbourdin.com had disappeared (after the domain’s registration lapsed), I created a tribute website at lucettebourdin.com, using as much material from the former site as I could salvage, and adding a complete discography.
Listener submissions, about the impact of Lucette’s music on their lives, are always welcome. See the website’s Memories page for details.
The highlight of my blog this year (and, arguably, for its entire history so far) was easily the six-part series glorifying my dearest musical kindred spirits.
Our annual wilderness camping vacation was another notable entry.
On to ‘21
The New Year’s priority is completing the five choir songs and three albums in progress. Anything new that may come up probably goes to the end of the queue.
Stay safe and well, and thanks for supporting music! May the coming year bring better news.