Slow Haiku

I was asked why the pieces called “Haiku 1” through “Haiku 4”, which can be found on the album slow, are so short. It’s a good question. I often assume the listener will understand my thoughts, however obscure they can be, and in my mind it was completely clear why the pieces were very short. :-)

The four pieces named “Haiku” are patterned after short Japanese poems called Haiku. This is a pretty good introduction to Haiku, but perhaps Yumiko will have a better suggestion.

Haiku (hy-koo) is a traditional Japanese verse form, notable for its compression and suggestiveness. In three lines totaling seventeen syllables measuring 5-7-5, a great haiku presents, through imagery drawn from intensely careful observation, a web of associated ideas (renso) requiring an active mind on the part of the listener.

My Haiku series from the album slow uses the same form as the poems. There are five sounds, followed by seven sounds, and then another five sounds. Between those lines are two brief pauses.

I should record more of these little Haiku pieces.

The Album Cover

As the album took shape, and I walked around listening to mixes of the 17 tracks, I started wondering about the cover imagery. Should the photo convey a sense of the slow pace of the music? That would be good, I thought, because then nobody could claim that they had no idea the music they bought was going to be slow… A picture of a tree, or something even slower, like a rock or a glacier?

One morning, after a night of rain showers, I noticed a lot of snails on the sidewalk. I carefully stepped over and around them on my way to a coffeeshop.

On my way home I saw this snail, and was surprised to see the clear dotted line of mucus behind it. I had always assumed a snail would traverse rough territory by emmiting a constant trail of mucus. I laughed, because I imagined the snail, noticing rough terrain underneath, would emmit mucus, then move an inch, then think “ouch!” when the mucus ran out, then drop more mucus, and so on…

Snail equals slow, I thought, and took a photo with my iPhone. How perfect!

I sent the image to my friend Richard Holbrook, who offered to design the cover. So, thank you snail, and thank you Richard, I think the cover turned out perfect!

Slow iTunes Cover

Slowly + Softly

Love whispers while hate screams, and this year I decided to whisper so softly. I wanted to raise my guitar against the sound of billions of smartphones beeping with the latest news, mentions, likes, and comments, keeping us in a state of constant alarm. I hope that some of you will switch your devices into airplane mode and let this music take you on a flight.

Playing this music softly will perfume the atmosphere, will improve conversation and calm animals. It will make for blithe plants and better growth. My favorite way to listen to this album is with headphones. Moving through a place or a landscape, this music becomes a soundtrack, movie music for one of those foreign films that allow a scene to linger instead of rushing through it toward the climax. The music on this album is equally suitable for lying on your belly and looking at blades of grass moving in the breeze, and standing in a full subway car watching humans sway from the undulations of the track.

I made all of the music on this album with one guitar and one microphone. The palette for the recording was deliberately narrow. Sometimes it reminded me of years ago when I recorded with a four track cassette recorder and had to make things work by improvising solutions.

Working by myself in the studio felt like writing a very personal diary. I recorded Elegy just days after Prince died, and other pieces promptly followed certain world events. I could tell you the source of each song, could tell you each emotion that went into a piece, and what stimulated that emotion… but I’d rather let you discover by yourself the music and the feelings it carries. That’s the beauty of instrumental music – like the description of a tree in a book that requires your imagination so that it can take form in your mind, instrumental music can take on different shapes and colors, depending on your experiences.

Heart Rate + Blood Pressure

Sometime in 2015 I decided to record by myself, without the band, and that I wanted to create slow music. Later I discovered that there has been research into how a song’s tempo can change the listener’s heartbeat and blood pressure. Here are a few of the things I found:

“Past research reveals that types of music varying in tempo, or beats per minute, can have physiological effects on the body. It is shown that fast tempo music of 120-130 beats per minute increases anxiety observed through an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, while slow tempo music of 50-60 beats per minute has the opposite effect on the body (Edworthy and Waring 2010).” – Source

“It has been shown that fast paced music increases heart rate and slow paced music decreases heart rate.” – Source

“This tempo (60 Beats Per Minute) inspires our brains to release alpha brainwaves, which puts our mind in a relaxed state, according to research at the University of Nevada, Reno.” – Source

“For hitting the books, put on music that ranges between 50 and 80 BPM. Metro UK reported on a study from music service Spotify, which found that math students listening to classical music improved their test scores, while those in humanities found creative excitement in songs that were just a bit faster.” – Source 1
Source 2

About Each Track

The tempo is expressed in BPM = Beats Per Minute (Wikipedia Explanation)

01 Rain

tempo = 80
rhythm = 4/4

On the left side I recorded a Bossa Nova rhythm at half speed. It is full and rich, one octave lower than the normal guitar range. Slowing down the rhythm creates the feeling of walking through a bog, one’s shoes only slowly releasing from the mud. An octave melody opens and closes the piece, where I pluck the lower note with my thumb and play a three finger tremolo an octave above that note.

02 Lalo Cura

tempo = 88
rhythm = 6/8

Lalo is a first name, Cura means cure in Spanish, but La Locura means the madness. There are two sections to this piece; the first is played solo and the second with multiple guitars. The “bass” is a guitar figure played at twice the tempo and then recorded at half the speed to lower the pitch.

The ending notes show an expanded range of the guitar, with some of the notes reproduced at half speed.

03 Haiku4

tempo = N/A
rhythm = N/A

I’ve read a number of books of haiku, and have occasionally tried my hand at writing them, too, but recently I thought about what a musical haiku might sound like. I tried to follow the traditional arrangement of 17 morae, arranged in three lines of five, seven and five morae – a mora is a sound or syllable.

04 Butterfly Dream

tempo = 90
rhythm = 6/8

The title alludes to a Taoist classic, the Chuang Tsu, in which a man wonders whether he dreams of being a butterfly at night, or whether he is a butterfly that dreams of being a man during the day. A solo guitar performance of this piece can be found on the album “One Guitar”.

05 Tana’s Blue

tempo = 60
rhythm = 4/4

Is Tana blue, or it this blue her color? The English language is ambiguous in this case and no context is offered. The kick drum is the sound of a knock on the guitar, just behind the bridge, replayed at half speed to give it more bottom.

The arpeggios in the beginning are false harmonics, the bass is a guitar re-recorded at half speed.

06 Adrift

tempo = 70
rhythm = 4/4

While I slowed down the Bossa Nova guitar part to half time for “Rain”, here I actually played the rhythm at the slow speed.

The bass notes are half time guitar. At 2’25” into the piece I broke with my rule of only using sounds from the one guitar, and you can hear my voice making a rhythmic sound. I think this marks the first time I “sang” on an album.

07 Haiku1

tempo = N/A
rhythm = N/A

The first two lines sound Japanese to me, but the third line sounds Flamenco.

08 Love

tempo = 80
rhythm = 5/8 + 6/8

Most of the piece is played in 5/8, except for the second half of each chorus, where the rhythm changes to 6/8. What I call the chorus starts at 1:09 and 3:15, and the 6/8 section begins at 1:39 and 3:45. There is a support melody that is played only during the second round of each chorus. The kick-drum-like sound during the 6/8 section is again the half-speed sound of my hitting the top of the guitar.

09 Ocean

tempo = 50
rhythm = 6/8 + 4/4

The guitar playing harmonics in 6/8 is taken from the piece “seesalt”, on the album three-oh-five, but here I had something different in mind: while the opening melody sways with a 6/8 rhythm, the rhythm soon switches to 4/4, at 0:52, and gains forward motion. At 1:31 the music switches back to 6/8. Even while the rhythm changes to 4/4, the first guitar stubbornly continues to play in 6/8.

The piece ends with the left side repeating the harmonic arpeggio that’s on the right, reminiscent of a phase composition.

10 Hope

tempo = 50
rhythm = 4/4

The melody uses an Arabic scale I discovered a while back, and previously used on the piece “Horse” on my album Dune. The intro is solo guitar. At 0:50 a second guitar enters, playing a 4/4 rhythm, but here every measure is divided into 5/8 + 3/8, with the kick-that-is-really-a-hit-on-the-guitar always falling on the first beat.

11 Haiku2

tempo = N/A
rhythm = N/A

I think of this piece as a western sound, a cowboy lullaby. The melody is harmonized with thirds, reminiscent of Mexican music.

12 Elegy

tempo = 55
rhythm = 4/4 + 5/8

I recorded this the week after Prince died. The rhythm switches between 4/4 and 10/8, but the notes of the melody fall in the exact same place. The music feels slower and faster, but the tempo stays the same.

13 Rainbow

tempo = 65
rhythm = 4/4

This piece starts with a rumba guitar rhythm, which includes slapping the body of the guitar, but slowed down to half speed. After “Elegy” this feels more like a sendoff, a returning to life.

14 Night

tempo = 86
rhythm = 6/8

This piece starts with a slow waltz rhythm. The rhythm breaks and dissolves into a solo guitar, playing a timeless reverie of the moon and the stars. Then one turns away from the night sky, and the rhythm returns.

15 Haiku3

tempo = N/A
rhythm = N/A

16 Stumbleweed

tempo = N/A
rhythm = N/A

An empty road at dawn, and tumbleweed stumbling across the lanes, now resting, now being pushed forward, or sideways, by a gust of wind. This piece started out as a solo piece, to which I later added a few extra notes.

17 End Less

tempo = 60
rhythm = 4/4

It’s a wordplay on endless, of course, but I was also thinking about how men always look to the finish line. In daily life as well as in philosophy, the question seems to always be how do I get over there? Over there is where I need to be, whether over there is enlightenment or heaven or just a specific car model or a certain amount of money in the bank. So “End Less” is advice to myself – to stop looking at the goal line and to simply be.


02 is for Kelly
04 is for Lisana
05 is for Jon
06 is for Roshi Joan Halifax
09 is for Terry Carter
10 is for Richard + Nesli
12 is for Prince
13 is for Rem