MiniVideo: The Ghosts of Soyuz, Part I

Minivideos are a way to share my music through channels that are designed exclusively for video–like Youtube and Facebook–without creating the kind of work-intensive full video that I’ve made for Dada DanceA City Is A Sound, and Theme From Another Place.

I’ve just posted a minivideo for the first track from my album Alone in a Big Place, “The Ghosts of Soyuz.” There’s a feeling you get when you’re alone in a big place–under the stars in the wilderness, or on the ocean by yourself with no land in sight. It’s unsettling and awe inspiring at the same time. This album deals with that feeling, and every track on the album comes with a piece of short fiction–here’s the video, and below it is the story that goes with it.

You can get the album here: Get “Alone in a Big Place”

Kaz drums his fingers on a hollow metal panel, and the small impacts resonate. He gazes through the port at Piotr, who’s outside, and unconsciously begins to tap out a rhythm: *bupata bupata BUM, bupata bupata BUM*. He hums a bit of melody that goes with it—what’s that from? He can’t place it. Maybe he made it up.

The panel chills his fingertips, and he imagines how cold it must be out there.  In here it’s reasonably warm, due in part to the heating system and in part to his body heat.  Warmth and moisture surround any living thing in a miasma.  On Earth you rarely notice it, but here, against the blank canvas of space, it can’t help but attract your attention. Almost from the moment they arrived on the cramped station, the air was warmed by his metabolism and Piotr’s, and filled with the moisture of their damp breath and their sweat. The whole place immediately began to smell richly—and not a little rancidly—of life.  It was a fragrance in flux. Over here it resembled soup. Over there, feet. Over that way, armpit sweat.  No matter how pristine a human artifact may be when it’s first made, it will quickly acquire the fecund stink of life, and the station is no exception.  It had been nearly sterile when it was launched.  Now the seals on the windows have accumulated dark spots—some kind of fungus that hitched a ride into space on their bodies.  And when he touches some surfaces it seems—although he can’t be sure if it’s real or a trick of his imagination—like they’re a little slick, as if colonies of bacteria have produced a barely perceptible layer of slime.

Kaz is a level-headed guy, normally anyway, but the silence is starting to get to him. Hence the drumming of his fingers and his repetitive humming of the scrap of melody that now won’t get out of his head. During training, every cosmonaut goes through a seemingly endless series of simulations of unexpected situations—emergencies and accidents and FUBAR nightmares. The exercises include time in a sensory deprivation tank, and some of the guys, cut off from all sensation, had started seeing things that weren’t there. Flashes of colored light, even images. And their data-starved brains had conjured up imaginary sounds: clicks and thumps and whispers and, sometimes, melodies, like the one he’s humming now. None of that had ever happened to him, but those simulations had lasted hours, not days. And he’d always known that right on the other side of the sealed hatch there’d been people: trainers, other aspiring cosmonauts, visiting dignitaries from Moscow. The isolation had been artificial, and the accident hadn’t been real.

He touches the cool metal frame of the port, then lets his fingers trail across the transparent surface of the window. On the other side of *that* there’s nothing—really and truly nothing. A vacuum. Space. And Piotr.

They ’d been hit a glancing blow by a piece of debris from some decommissioned satellite—space junk.  Piotr had gone out to try to effect some DIY repairs on the comm system. Without it they had no contact with the ground, which was going to make returning to Earth a very dangerous proposition.  So Piotr had gone while Kaz had remained inside, testing internal systems to see what else might have been damaged.  Normally he’d have monitored Piotr during the whole EVA—at least visually, since they had no radio for the moment—but they’d needed quick answers on whether any other vital systems had been affected, so he’d worked his way through several emergency checklists, glancing out the port from time to time to make sure Piotr was all right. And he had been, every time—until he wasn’t.

Kaz had looked out and seen Piotr, still in position, completely still. He’d assumed, without consciously thinking about it, that the other cosmonaut had just paused for a moment, but Kaz had been trained for more than a decade to check and double-check *everything* while on a mission. It was automatic, something he did even when there was no reason to think that anything was wrong. So he’d waited for Piotr to resume working, figuring it would take a few seconds. But it hadn’t happened. He’d waited, and waited, and waited, but Piotr had simply hung there, motionless.  He was turned away from the port, so Kaz couldn’t even see his face behind the visor.  Had another piece of debris hit him? Maybe. Or maybe he’d had some kind of catastrophic health failure—a heart attack or an aneurism, something like that. There was no way to tell.


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MiniVideo: The Nouveau Baroque

Minivideos are a way to share my music through channels that are designed exclusively for video–like Youtube and Facebook–without creating the kind of work-intensive full video that I’ve made for Dada Dance, A City Is A Sound, and Theme From Another Place.

I’ve just posted a minivideo for track 9 from the album Out of Place, “The Nouveau Baroque.” Every track on that album (except one) comes with a piece of short fiction–here’s the video, and below it is the story that goes with it.

The Nouveau Baroque

Ren’s plane touches down at Schiphol airport, and he immediately feels more at home than he did in his own house. Here, for a little while, he can be completely himself. Like in Paris last year, or in Sendai the year before that. Or any of two dozen other places he’s visited on business over the last twenty years.

Patty thinks he screws around when he travels, having affairs or hiring prostitutes, and Amsterdam would be the place for it. If she knew his real secret, she’d laugh. He looks out the window at the overcast sky as the jet taxis toward the terminal. On the tarmac outside he can see workers moving around, and a little tug truck pulling a train of dollies filled with luggage is on its way toward the terminal.

The truth is, he purposely lets Patty to go on thinking that he’s spending time with hookers. It’s humiliating, but at least it means that his real love is safe from her scorn, from the scathing way she’d describe it to their friends. “I’m just teasing,” she’d say. And maybe it’d be true, maybe she wouldn’t mean any harm, but, intentionally or not, she’d be attacking something he loves passionately, even if he doesn’t entirely understand why he feels the way he does.

Ren’s a freelance troubleshooter for franchise operations. Sometimes the owner of a local franchise will hire him, or sometimes the franchisor will do it, but either way, when a fast food restaurant is in trouble, or a discount shoe outlet that should be thriving is floundering instead, he’s dispatched to Oakland, or Vancouver, or London to review the operation and, if possible, get things in shape. And he’s an engaging public speaker, too, which makes him popular at conferences, corporate retreats, and other industry shindigs, and these take him even farther afield than the individual stores do: Russia, Japan, Germany, Brazil, South Africa.

Early in his career he’d been doing a presentation at a conference in Toronto, and the company sponsoring the event had dragged a few of the speakers, including him, to a show by the White Oaks Dance Company. It was supposed to be a perk, but Ren would have preferred cash, or maybe a room upgrade.  Still, he wasn’t about to piss off a client, so he’d acted like he was thrilled that he would get a chance to see the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov perform in person.

He’d braced himself, expecting that he’d have to fight to stay awake, but when the lights had gone down and the dancers had first appeared, he’d suddenly felt as if he were alone in the dark with them—as if he and they were engaged in something direct and intimate, the rest of the audience forgotten. Hell, he’d damn near forgotten about himself. Instead of watching, he seemed to somehow exist inside the dancers, the whole troupe of them, as they moved and leapt and contorted, and the music moved across his skin in a way that was palpable. Patty thought he was having sex? This was far more powerful than sex. It was otherworldly. Unforgettable. Transformative.

When the show had ended, he’d had to work hard to keep up his usual facade of cheerful, shallow good humor—every business exec’s cheerful buddy—while inside he seemed to shake with the energy of what he’d just been through. The moment he’d reached the sanctuary of his hotel room, he’d arranged to stay an extra night in the city. The next evening he’d gone back down to the theater and bought a ticket from a scalper so he could go through the whole experience again. Alone this time, without having to worry about keeping up appearances, he’d surrendered to the feeling absolutely.

And so his “affair” had begun. Before any business trip, he’d research his destination ahead of time, looking for local dance companies, or for touring shows that would be in town at the same time he was. And it turned out that it wasn’t just arty, modern dance that gave him this transcendent feeling. Ballet was great. Flamenco was fantastic. Ballroom dancing got him just as high as the jitterbug. Krumping and breaking filled him with ecstasy. So did samba and meringue and tango.

He had a secret stash of videos, but unlike what Patty might suspect, they weren’t porn. They included recordings of his favorite ballets, as well as every kind of dance movie imaginable, from classics like West Side Story and Shall We Dance, to popular hits like Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, Step Up, and Fame, to obscure treasures he had to seek out and track down, like Guy Madden’s Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, and Dudley Murphy’s classic, Danse Macabre. Initially he’d kept a hidden cache of DVDs, and even a few VHS tapes, but these days he kept everything in a cloud account. It was harder for prying eyes to find and easier for him to access, at any moment, anywhere.

But even the best recording paled next to a live performance, and tonight he would add one to his collection that he’d wanted to see for a long time. Nancy Duvalle’s troupe, Springen, would be performing a show called Nouveau Baroque. Yet again, Ren checks the receipt in his breast pocket for the single ticket he’s ordered online. Apparently the seating nearest the stage is in dinner theater style: small tables, each with several chairs. It’d be more comfortable in the tiered seating further back, where plush ranks of seats rise up in rows, like at the movies, but he wants to be right up front. If he’d been allowed to, he’d have bought out a whole table in order to have the space all to himself, but the limit is one ticket per person. Compelling strangers to sit together—rather than allowing a group of friends to sit all in a row, or a single fanatic to isolate himself at a table—is part of the Springen aesthetic.

He deplanes hurriedly, catches a train downtown, and checks in at the Mövenpick Hotel, which he picked at random when he booked his ticket, then abandons his bags and heads out. He’s too impatient to stay inside, but the show isn’t for another two hours, so he takes a taxi to the theater, which sits in the east part of the city, not far from the better-known Oostblok. He wanders across the street to a comfortable cafe and settles in with a beer. He takes out his phone and a pair of earbuds and watches Die Klage der Kaiserin, occasionally glancing across at the theater.

The video ends, and he looks up, and this time there’s activity on the other side of the street. Ushers, dressed as eighteenth century footmen, are standing outside the plain wooden doors of the theater, which have been propped open. He puts away his phone, stuffs the earbuds into his pocket, downs the last gulp of his beer, and signals the waitress that he wants to settle up what he owes.

In the lobby of the theater, he presents his ticket to one of the footmen. Now that he’s closer, he can see that their costumes are a mish mash of period detail, modern touches, and random flourishes. The person leading him into the hall is dressed in something like a standard livery—deep blue jacket and pants, with bright brass buttons, a blindingly white shirt, and an embroidered gold waistcoat. But her face has been made up in the style of a harlequin, and her shoes, while allowing her to move naturally, have nonetheless been designed to look like the hooves of a deer. On top of her head is a tall, elaborate, powdered wig.

She leads him through the dark, hushed space of the interior to a table directly in front of the low stage, where she bows low, stepping back with one foot and indicating his seat with an extended hand, after which she glides silently away. Around him, other patrons are being shown to their places by staff in similarly outlandish costumes. The one element they all have in common is the presence of a powdered wig, although the styles of the hairpieces vary widely. Some fit the head almost like a tight cap, with a pony tail protruding at the back, while others stack the hair high into the air in complex layers.

Another footman arrives and seats a young woman at his table. She pulls up a chair, deposits a giant handbag beside her on the floor, then extends her hand to Ren. He takes it.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Ren.”

She smiles.

“No English,” she pronounces carefully.

“No Dutch,” he says in return, and she bursts out laughing.

“Nein, nein. Ich spreche Deutsch. Et le français, aussi, si c’est mieux.”

Ren gets the general idea and laughs with her, shaking his head. French isn’t going to be any better than German for him.

One of the footmen appears on the stage while a few stragglers are still being seated, and goes through an elaborate comic pantomime reminding the audience members to turn off their cell phones. He concludes with a throat-cutting gesture, showing he means business, and the lights dim.

For a moment it’s very dark, but then the stage lights rise slightly, and Ren can see that a group of dancers have taken the stage. Music begins, and the lights come up further, and the dancers—who, it turns out, are the footmen—begin to move. The dance is something baroque, roughly matching the period of their costumes. He thinks it might be a minuet, but his formal knowledge about dance is pretty spotty. Watching people dance is a religious experience for him, but studying dance from a book doesn’t give him the same thrill.

The lights are quite high now, reflecting off the brass and silver elements in the costumes, and refracting through the crystals in two large chandeliers that have been lowered from the ceiling until they hang just above the dancers. The tempo of the music steps up a notch, and then another, and the dancers accelerate each time to match it. The dance now looks more like a lively gigue than a minuet. The spangled play of light becomes more and more pronounced, even intense, and Ren realizes that it can’t all be accounted for by the sparkling costumes and chandeliers. There must be something like a disco ball, or maybe two or three of them, hidden somewhere to the sides of the stage, maybe above it as well, that’s being used to create this new, very busy effect, with shafts and shards of light flying in all directions as the dance ups the pace one last time.

The music is changing, and it’s not just the tempo now. The traditional instruments that started things off—violin, harpsichord, and so on—are being joined by modern ones. A deep, insistent bass bounce joins the melody, and so does a complicated synthesizer arpeggio, and long, echoing notes from an electric guitar. Ren can feel his heart beating faster as the music becomes more urgent, his biology entrained to it. And then, all at once, he’s transported to that other world, the one he first discovered so long ago in Toronto.

This is the real world, as far as he’s concerned. What good is a successful business if all you buy with it is a ludicrous house filled with gaudy crap? Patty’s happy with that stuff, but it means nothing to him—it’s just the stage dressing for those dreary, interludes of fictional existence that he has to live through between moments of genuine, heart-stopping beauty. What the hell is the point of eating and sleeping and reproducing if it’s just so you can eat and sleep and reproduce some more? A monkey can do that. What makes us human is using all of that as a platform to do something more, something original. For some people that’s music, or painting, or film, or even sport—anything that’s the best it can be, the most fully realized, the most elegantly executed. For him it’s dance—the beat, the melody, the movement. The pulse and the exertion and the exhilaration.

And it’s as he’s thinking this, that an entirely new world opens to him. What he had taken for a revelation, the ecstasy of watching dance, was only a stopping off point on the way to this moment.

The German woman reaches into her giant handbag and pulls out a powdered wig. She stands and, in one efficient movement, grabs the shoulder of her shirt and tears away her clothes. Only now does he see that her shirt and her pants and the belt she’s wearing are all part of a single jumpsuit, held closed with velcro.

Underneath, she’s dressed as a baroque footman, just like the ones on the stage. She plunks the powdered wig on her head and pulls an elastic strap under her chin to keep it on. Ren looks left and right and sees that there’s a person at almost every table who’s actually a dancer posing as a member of the audience, all of them suddenly revealing the costumes they’d kept hidden, invading the space where the audience sits, expecting to just watch. Further away, he sees that more dancers are appearing amidst the tiered seats behind him—seemingly ordinary people who suddenly leap up, rip off their clothes, and turn into fantasy creatures, to the surprise of those seated around them. He looks back at the woman at his table, who is fishing around in her bag again.

Her hand comes out with another powdered wig. Before he realizes what she’s doing, she grasps him by his hand and, smiling, pulls him to his feet. He realizes that he’s smiling, too. She’s dancing now, a simple kind of rocking, bouncing motion that compliments the more elaborate motions that the dancers on stage are going through, and he realizes that all the newly appeared dancers are doing the same simple dance. She offers him the wig. He takes hold of it, looks at it for a moment, then puts it on. For a brief moment he hesitates, then begins to rock and to bounce, imitating what she’s doing. He turns around, facing back into the audience, like she’s doing. Some spectators have refused the wigs, but others have accepted them, and they’re doing the same thing he is—uncertainly, but enthusiastically, imitating their dance partners. And then, without any apparent prompting, other spectators stand up. Wigless and uninvited, they start dancing anyway. No one has given them permission, and they haven’t asked. Someone cheers.

There’s no dividing line, now, between the stage and the audience, between the dancers and the spectators, between the show and the world. Ren is dancing without having to think about it anymore. He’s got the rhythm and the movements down, and he can relax into the dance and let it take him over. The music’s very loud now, but his mind is quiet. He isn’t thinking, just doing. He isn’t watching, just dancing.

And smiling.

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Avant: Final Album Art and Track Listing

The new album, Avant, is almost ready to launch.

The final track lineup is below. Each track is dedicated to, and celebrates, one avant garde artists, except for Leonora Carrington, who somehow managed to get two tracks all to herself.

  1. (3:03) Dada Dance (for Hannah Höch)
  2. (3:46) Eve (Welcome to Dream Land) (for Iwata Nakayama)
  3. (3:08) Une Fièvre Permanente (for Guillaume Apollinaire)
  4. (3:48) Fuel (for F.T. Marinetti)
  5. (4:05) Cathedral (It Is Moral If You Can Dance To It) (for Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven)
  6. (3:08) Every Page (for Tristan Tzara)
  7. (3:28) La Mariée (for Marcel Duchamp)
  8. (4:00) Opera (for Zhao Shou)
  9. (3:35) Ligne Bleu Clair (for Simone Yoyotte)
  10. (3:16) Sui Generis (for Claude Cahun)
  11. (3:02) HexenTexte (for Unica Zürn)
  12. (2:57) C’est L’extase (for Baya Mahieddine)
  13. (3:08) The Burning Giraffe (for Salvador Dalí)
  14. (3:27) Daughter of the Minotaur, Part I (A Slow Swamp Strut) (for Leonora Carrington)
  15. (3:02) Entre Tes Mots (for Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo)
  16. (3:16) Le Flâneur Dans La Foule (for Charles Baudelaire)
  17. (3:01) Canção Do Canibal (for Oswalde de Andrade)
  18. (2:59) Daughter of the Minotaur, Part II (A Roadhouse Stomp) (for Leonora Carrington)
  19. (3:12) Piazza Shadows (for Giorgio de Chirico)
  20. (3:13) Ubu Dit Au Revoir (for Alfred Jarry)

The album art is also ready. The cover is below, with a sampling of the interior art below that.

AVANT cover 26 (small).jpg

Avant Booklet 01 The Art (only) sized 72PPI shamans

Avant Booklet 01 The Art (only) sized 72PPI umbrella man

Elephants for Artists Booklet 01 ruby


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Album Update (and Recap): Avant

Avant is at that stage where it has suddenly lurched in the direction of being complete. This usually means that at any moment, with everything about 95% finished, it will slow to a crawl as a thousand small details scream for attention.

That said, the bulk of the writing and recording is done, so this seems like a sensible time to take stock.

First the new news, then a summary of previously announced stuff, such as track titles and the artists associated with them.

The Update

Number of Tracks

In total there will be 20 tracks,  well over an hour of music.

I grew up in an age when albums were the dominant musical structure–singles were largely passé, but downloads didn’t exist yet. This means that I write albums, and whether or not they succeed in doing so, they are meant to hang together. There’s a theme of some kind, there’s a specific palette of instruments, and there’s a very particular order to the tracks, plus some kind of arc across the whole thing.

So, in that context, even though I haven’t specifically broken Avant down in this way, it’s clearly a double album.

The Unknowns and the Old Boys

Each track has an artist associated with it, and I focused mostly on those whose work hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves, especially woman, people of color, and artists who have publicly identified as LGBTQI. At the same time, I included some of the usual suspects as long as they didn’t threaten to take over.

I haven’t announced all the artists yet, but they’ve all been decided, so I can talk about the mix as between Relative Unknowns and Familiar Names.

Of the 20 tracks, 12 fall into the former category, and all of these but one are women, people of color, or in a sexual minority. The remaining 8 are names that you might well recognize, although they’re not necessarily the most popular, or even my personal favorites. They’re the eight who most insistently inspired a composition.

And here’s one more artist who can now be officially added to the roster: Japanese photographer Iwata Nakayama. His track is called “Eve,” which is the title his 1940 photograph, reproduced below.



Avant garde art–and especially surrealism, which is dominant on Avant–has always been self-consciously international, and therefore multilingual. Avant will mostly be in English, but with one track each in French (The Bride Stripped Bare) and Portuguese (one of the ones whose details I haven’t announced yet).

Maybe I could have performed in other languages by doing it phonetically, but I wanted each song was to be written in the language in which it was performed, not written in English and then translated.

If you speak French or Portuguese, you’ll see that the lyrics of the non-English songs include parallelisms and little bits of word play that wouldn’t be there, or would at least be strained, if they were translations from English.

Release Date

So far nothing’s etched in stone, but many of the signs and portents are pointing toward July. It could be August, though.


Like my previous albums, Avant will come with a digital booklet in two versions, one optimized for portable devices and a higher res one for desktops.

I’ve slightly revised the previously announced cover art, with the new version below, and further down is a previously unreleased illustration from the digital booklet. The images may yet be tweaked, but the art is getting close to being finalized.

SOMNIO 01 AVANT new cover 04

Les Reves 01

The Recap

I’ve announced quite a few details up to this point, mostly via Facebook, but I haven’t gathered them all in one place until now.

So here’s what’s been decided and publicized as far as the track list goes, including song titles and the names of the artist whose work inspired each one.

  1. Dada Dance (Hannah Höch, Germany)
  2. Hexen Texte (Unica Zürn, Germany)
  3. Cathedral (Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Germany/US)
  4. Eve (Iwata Nakayama, Japan)
  5. Every Page (Tristan Tzara, Romania/France)
  6. The Bride Stripped Bare (Marcel Duchamp, France)
  7. The Burning Giraffe (Salvador Dalí, Spain)
  8. Daughter of the Minotaur (Leonora Carrington, UK/Mexico)
  9. Sui Generis (Claude Cahun, France)

More information as things unfold.


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OOP Video Image Credits

The following are credits and links for all the images used in the Out Of Place video.  All images have been altered before being used in the video, with changes ranging from cropping and small adjustments to color balance to wholesale replacement of elements in the image (for example, the sky) with elements from other images.

Except where otherwise noted, these images were created by photographers participating in the Documerica project and are in the public domain. All other images are used pursuant to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

At the time of posting all links are working and take you directly to the image from the video.

If you notice an error in any of the credits or links, please let me know at

01 Charles O’Rear

02 Michael Philip Manheim

03 Charles O’Rear

04 Greyhound Charles O’Rear

05 Ernst Halberstadt

06 Danny Lyon

07 Steve Snodgrass but with sky replaced and everything tweaked

08 Boyd Norton

09 Danny Lyon

10 Randy Heinitz, Flickr member, Creative Commons  Attribution License

11 Charles O’Rear

12 David Falconer

13 David Falconer

14 Flip Schulke

15 Patricia Duncan

16 Charles O’Rear

17 Road: oatsy40 & Sky: Pixabay

18 Road: oatsy40 & Sky: Pixabay

19 Dick Swanson

20 Dick Swanson

21 Leroy Woodson

22 Flip Schulke

23 Danny Lyon

24 Charles O’Rear

25 Terry Eiler

26 Michael Philip Manheim

27 Marc St. Gil

28 PunkToad, Flickr member, Creative Commons  Attribution License

29 Marc St. Gil

30 John Vachon

31 Bill Reaves

32 Terry Eiler

33 Charles O’Rear

34 Charles O’Rear

35 Boyd Norton

36 Flip Schulke

37 Tom Hilton, Flickr member, Creative Commons  Attribution License

38 Bill Reaves

39 emilykneeter, Flickr member, Creative Commons  Attribution License

40 William Strode

41 Danny Lyon

42 Charles O’Rear

43 Flip Schulke

44 Danny Lyon

45 Boyd Norton

46 William Strode

47 Arthur Tress

48 Terry Eiler

49 Terry Eiler

50 Danny Lyon

51 Arthur Tress

52 David Falconer,

53 Charles O’Rear

54 Arthur Tress

55 Charles O’Rear

56 Charles O’Rear

57 Bill Reaves

58 Marc St. Gil

59 Boyd Norton

60 Marc St. Gil

61 John H. White

62 Danny Lyon

63 Arthur Tress

64 David Hiser

65 Danny Lyon

66 David Hiser

67 Charles O’Rear

68 Kathy Drasky, Flickr member, Creative Commons  Attribution License


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Album: Time

Time was one of four albums I released on Halloween 2017. The three others form a trilogy under the overall title of Another Place (the individual albums being A City is a Sound, Alone in a Big Place, and Out of Place).

Time is different, being the first album in a different musical stream, called Somniophony. The title is a play on the word symphony, which is derived from (among other sources) the Latin term symphonia, meaning a unity of sounds.

Somnios, in Latin, means dream, so a somniophony is a sound heard as if in a dream.

In terms of instrumentation, the Somniophony stream of albums is much more overtly synthesizer oriented than Another Place was. At its core, Time is an album built around the slick, artificial sounds of synthesizers and the throaty, voice-like sound of the cello–an unusual combination that I think works very well.

Time (large)

The album consists of eight tracks, six instrumental and two with spoken word vocals. You can hear the first track, “The Heart is a Timepiece,” below, and the album is available here (my entire catalogue is available here).

Time comes with a digital booklet, like all my albums, in this case including the lyrics for the two tracks that have them and a series of digital images.

The second album in the Somniophony stream will be Avant, which is due out later this year. The cover art is below, and you can find details about it here.

AVANT cover

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Minimalist Alternate Cover Art

I’m a compulsive tinkerer, which means that my projects tend to go through a lot of permutations, and I sometimes perseverate on something when wiser folks would just let it go. Which is what happened with the cover art I created for the trio of albums in the series Another Place.

The final designs had a distinctly retro feel . In an era of increasingly atomized music, sold by the individual track, I miss the heyday of the album–not just sonically, but also conceptually and structurally.

As Howard Goodall has argued fairly cogently, in the period leading up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in particular after it dropped, the album became something far greater than a mere collection of recorded songs that more or less reproduced the sound of a band playing a concert.

Increasingly, the studio itself became the instrument, with songs composed of sounds and effects that were often impossible to recreate live. And the album, rather than the single, became the musical unit, with songs thematically connected across the span of the whole album.

The albums of Another Place revisit this approach, from their conceptual framework, to the compositions themselves, to the design. For instance, each one has a theme related to place:

  • A City is a Sound deals with the the city, and in particular the great American cities of the 1970s. These are places I got to know intimately–the smells of them and the feeling of their surfaces–as I walked around them, hitchhiking the length and breadth of North America for months on end.
  • Alone in a Big Place is meant to capture the experience of being alone in a desert, or on the sea, or on an island, or in a deserted building–or any other place where there is no one else around. Sometimes even in a crowd.
  • Out of Place is intended to convey the feeling that comes with being somewhere you usually aren’t. There’s a different perspective that comes with that situation, and often it’s surprisingly pleasant or instructive.

The design of the three albums was meant to have a vintage feel as well, with the top banner and its graphic.

All covers

To get completely into the spirit of things, I did some mockups of gatefold covers, a physical design that became popular just around that time.  These were never going to be used to house vinyl albums, but creating them put me in the right mood as I was writing the music. Here’s one for A City is a Sound.

Gatefold mockup for A City is a Sound.

Gatefold mockup for A City is a Sound.

And here’s one for Alone in a Big Place.

Gatefold mockup for Alone in a Big Place.

Gatefold mockup for Alone in a Big Place.

But after spending a lot of time creating designs that were meant to evoke the albums of the 1970s, I found that I wanted a palate cleanser. Something slicker. Something that was extreme in the opposite direction.

Just as the simplicity, and often minimalism, of punk and new wave followed the baroque richness of 1970s rock, I wanted something other. So I created an alternate cover for each of the three albums, spare and clean and graphic.

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Creating a design this simple as these seems like it should be easy, but in fact it took about as much planning as the 70s covers, though the execution was less time consuming. I wanted each cover to contain the least possible information that would still convey a sense of what the album was about.

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Coming up with the right avatar for the theme of each album, without letting it get too detailed or complex, took some doing.

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So here they are.

They scratched the itch they were meant to satisfy, even if they have no practical reason to exist. If you own one of these albums and prefer the minimalist design to the original, or just want some variety, feel free to download them.

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Album Art Outtakes, “A City is a Sound”

When I created the album art for “A City is a Sound,” I used images from the Documerica Project, in which the U.S. government engaged a number of very creative photographers–many of whom went on to fame and acclaim–to document environmental issues.

The photographers took a very broad view of their mandate, in fact creating a portrait of the United States during a few short years in the 1970s–the exact period that was the subject of “A City is a Sound.”

"Two Girls Smoking Pot During an Outing in Cedar Woods near Leakey, Texas" (1973) by Marc St. Gil.

“Two Girls Smoking Pot During an Outing in Cedar Woods near Leakey, Texas” (1973) by Marc St. Gil. I applied curves because it was dark, and tweaked the colors, which  were faded. Done in two layers (foreground women, and background), as well as detailing two smaller elements (the top worn by the woman on the left and the strap around the neck of the woman on the right).

There were so many impressive, evocative images that there were many I loved that, for one reason or another, weren’t right for my particular project. That said, I couldn’t resist refreshing some of these outtakes with the same kinds of techniques I used for the album art: brightening dark images, reinvigorating faded color, and, very occasionally, reframing an image if it wasn’t level.

"Puerto Rican boys playing softball in Brooklyn's Hiland Park" (1974) by Danny Lyon.

“Puerto Rican boys playing softball in Brooklyn’s Hiland Park” (1974) by the great Danny Lyon. I applied curves and tweaked the colors.


The pairs of images on this page give you the before and after versions of a few of these images. I’ll post more another time.

"Broadway Local" (1973) by Erik Calonius.

“Broadway Local” (1973) by Erik Calonius. I brightened it and adjusted the colors.




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Creating Album Art for “Out of Place”

When I created the album art for Out of Place, the third album in the series Another Place, I wanted a visual counterpart to the theme that ran through the music: that finding yourself in a new, strange environment can be disorienting, but that can be a good thing, allowing you to escape old ruts you’d gotten into and letting you see things from a new angle.

Image Pair 01

I was looking for images the were reminiscent of travel snapshots, but that often involved odd juxtapositions, and that encompassed possibilities that were sometimes inviting and sometimes uncomfortable.

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I also wanted them to combine the everyday feeling of family photos taken on holiday with a sense of the extraordinary, the dreamlike. The first factor led me to frame the images like old-time Polaroids, while the second guided the selection of images and the way I tweaked their framing, color, contrast, and other elements, to give them the kind of surreal edge that can come when you’ve been driving just a little too long on a hot desert road.

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Out of Place is available on my Bandcamp page, as are my other three albums.



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Out of Place

Out of Place is the third album in the trilogy Another Place. All three albums (along with the first in another set) were released on Halloween 2017.

Each album in Another Place with a theme related to location: A City is a Sound, Alone in a Big Place, and Out of Place.

Here’s the idea behind Out of Place:

Sometimes finding yourself unexpectedly in a strange, new place can be oddly welcoming. This album deals with that experience, from a woman who’s chosen to live her life in one sterile airport hotel after another, to a woman who wakes from a blackout in the middle of a desert, to a woman and man who fall in love at first sight at the scene of a multiple murder.

Includes a 49-page illustrated digital booklet, with short fiction to accompany each track. The booklet comes in two versions, one hi-res for use on computers, and the other optimized for portable devices.

Here’s a sample track called “The Nouveau Baroque”:


The digital booklet for Out of Place is extensive. Each track gets a title page featuring an evocative photograph, followed by a piece of short fiction, ten in all. Here are a few of the images from the booklet, along with one of the stories.

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Here’s one of the pieces of short fiction, followed by a couple more images.

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And a couple of final images.

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