dave stafford



Dave Stafford, August 2010:  “transitory” in some ways, will always be my “favourite album” – if one can have a favourite, this would be it.


After the experiments in short loops, mixed media tracks, and in treating tracks, I wanted to step back and make a somewhat different kind of looping album.


This was still back in the “cassette days” so in this case, I decided I would work according to certain self-imposed rules:


1) I would use a very, very simple, very clean sounding (e.g. NO pre-amplification whatsoever) set up – guitar, into looper, into Digitech reverb – nothing else in the signal chain – plus a Sony Discman from which to loop samples

2) I would introduce atmospheric looped-sample backing tracks and then loop on top of them in stereo, giving me the luxury of having a pre-recorded backing to overdub – two tracks of sample, two tracks of ebow guitar/loop

3) I would record the pieces IN THE SEQUENCE they were to go on the album – from start to finish, in order

4) The pieces would all bear one word titles

5) I would take my time to create the tracks on side one, go through the normal process, but for side two, I would try to get the tracks down in the shortest time possible.  In the end, side one took three months, side two took three days – so this was a success.

6) For reference, on the cassette version, “Side One” ends with “arena”, and “Side Two” starts with “exeat”.


Interestingly, you can’t really “hear” the changeover from side one to side two (despite the very different approaches) if you just let the entire album just play, but they may be due to the fact that even the pieces I took more time with, those tracks still have a very “live” feel – this is probably, primarily, due to the process I used for ALL the tracks, regardless of the speed with which they were recorded, so the basic recording methodology produced tracks with a similar feel despite differences in creation time.





“circa” is just one of those lucky, lucky accidents, I was playing about, looking for a very lush, lazy background over which I could loop – and this track starts with a sample that I captured that first day, I won’t say from where but over time, it’s received a lot of comment in reviews and from casual observers.  I did try to take very obscure samples, mostly from albums recorded in the 1960s, which have a certain atmosphere that you just don’t find in later recordings, and I think it was those selections, using that vintage material, that also adds to the atmosphere of the entire project.


The track is very basic – I pre-recorded the stereo, looped sample, treated with reverb I believe, to two tracks of my TEAC 3340S four track reel-to-reel recorder.  I then plug my guitar directly into the looper, which then goes into the stereo reverb – and to the other two tracks of the TEAC 3340S.  Extremely straightforward compared to some of the incredibly convoluted pedalboard and signal path atrocities that I regularly used to commit, on early Dave Stafford and Bindlestiff albums - sometimes running two complete sets of guitar effects simultaneously, routed through pre-amps and yet more effects - at one point, I had two MIDI continuous controller pedals, as well as an input volume pedal, a loop level pedal, and God only knows what OTHER pedals - all working at once.


The set-up described above is basically the set up for all the tracks on this record, and working in this incredibly simplistic way, really creates an open space, where each piece inhabits a different atmosphere, is distinctive and different from its companions, but somehow the entire album has a natural “flow” that I neither planned nor initially even perceived.


It just…worked.  I’d finish one piece, and then think, OK, I need to do something different yet complimentary to follow this – I was THINKING actively about how each piece would relate to the previous piece.


“circa” was a dream to make.  I started to loop along with the looped sample, and VERY quickly got the basic energy bow loop that “fit” against the bass, drums and saxophone sample.  I locked the loop, and made a recording of it…and that was “circa” done.  





The next piece was to be very different, again, the exact same pattern, I grabbed a couple of different “bits” from a piece of Indian music on yet another 1960’s album, got a lovely, sort of “jangly-raga” (if such a thing could exist!) as a backing, and again, that was it – ready to overdub.


So with a lengthy recording of this “jangly-raga” done onto two tracks of the TEAC, I set out to play a live, ebow and loop part on the other two tracks.


I remember that this was not nearly as easy to do as “circa” was, I struggled with two things – one, what on earth to play as a melody on top of the loop that would both compliment and not stomp all over it, and, how on earth would I “END” the piece because I had to coordinate the live ebow/loop with the almost ten minutes of “jangly-raga” on the other two tracks.


This was just a case of being patient, of learning some loop bits and some melody that “fit” and “matched” the rather unusual backing, which has a fairly generic pitch arena, but is a bit odd rhythmically.  In the end, I played a very, very intense but very carefully delivered ebow loop (and live ebow solos), and I am very pleased with the result, which is probably the most successful of the handful of “East meets West” pieces that I’ve done over the years.


This is a single take, ten minutes of ebow loop and live with no significant “errors”.  Not easy – a very intense experience, mostly carefully disguised panic, trying to remain “in control”, and trying to hit that ending as well, to make sure that I didn’t under- or over-run the end of the backing track. I hit the end right on the mark, and the piece ends beautifully albeit quite suddenly – again, an intentional shaking, to awake the listener from the spell of the piece, and let them know that a new piece is starting..


It all turned out well in the end.





So from the tonalities of India, I now move to a piece that is a little different, that track being “quartet”, which is a piece without any sample, I’ve used a very unusual, short, sharp ebow technique, coupled with a lovely gated reverb, to get one of the strangest sounds I’ve ever got out of my energy bow.


This is a very specific way of playing the ebow, basically moving it vertically up the string towards the pickup, in short sweeps of a very specific distance, arriving not too close nor too far away proximity-wise to the magnets of the guitar’s pickup - moving the ebow as if it were a violin bow - and the resulting sound, especially if you “treat” it with the right types of reverb, sound remarkably like ...a guitar that is really a violin (but is not).  It is a technique that I knew but rarely used, and it took some hours of practice to get “good enough” at it to make the recordings work.


I did it as if it were a string quartet (hence the name) laying down a loop of first one note, then the next, and so on, until I had a pulsing quartet of ebows, created on the Oberheim, by using the “Overdub” function repeatedly.  I saved the resulting short loop on “Loop 1”, and then spent more time still creating a second “part”, again using the sawing “violin emulation ebows”, a somewhat more complex set of “violin” harmonies, and then saved that onto “Loop 2”


So at this point, I had two “sections” of the song, stored on “Loop 1” and “Loop 2” respectively, of the Oberheim Echoplex Pro looper.  Then the last part was overdubbed live as a stereo ebow loop and live ebow, atop “Loop 1” ONLY, providing a contrast to the “violin emulation ebows” – the staggering, eerie sounding ebow stabs overlaid with a long, beautiful melody – I find this interesting, because your ear is not quite sure which to follow – the strange, short, stabbing gated-reverb stabs, or the flowing melody atop them.


So now, with “Loop 1” overdubbed with some flowing ebows, while “Loop 2” remained unadorned, I simply made a stereo recording of the piece, by standing there and pushing the “Loop Select” footswitch, which switched between “Loop 1” and “Loop 2” and back again, as required.  To end the piece, I grabbed the output knob of the Oberheim, and suddenly and incredibly quickly slammed it to zero – which just dumped beautifully into the short, gated reverb – in the middle of a bar, no less, to surprise the audience, and once again – song over.


What was so very cool about this track is that basically, I “used” the Oberheim like a programmable, multi-track digital recorder, storing two “parts” of the song, one heavily overdubbed, the other, less so, and then I could literally push “record” on the tape recorder, and then “play back” the song, start to finish, by going “Loop 1” to “Loop 2” to “Loop 1” to “Loop 2” to “Loop 1” and then just stop when I felt the moment was right.  Much easier than “bouncing” tracks on the four track, and I could record a lot more ebows a lot faster than I ever could on a tape recorder.


In some ways, “quartet” is a demonstration of the real power of the Oberheim Echoplex Pro, which can be used almost like a little mini-recording studio (especially if you run it into a nice 24-bit reverb).  Of course, it can do up to nine of these mini-loops, which can be “played back” in any sequence.


This is the same “multiple loops” technique utilised on the track “Continuum” from “Other Memory/Sand Island”.


Sure, this was a bit of a deviation from the “standard process”, a slightly more complex composition, but I loved doing this – it took a long time to get the loops right, but the entire process was most enjoyable.  And I really enjoy the transition from loop to loop to loop – it just sounds like a piece of music, not the bits and pieces that it really is!





Next is “pulsar”, which is a very strange piece indeed.  It was a loop that I played in very extemporised way, totally improvised – I did a little bit of high-speed “twiddly” guitar, looped it, switched my guitar to two octaves down, so it sounded like a bass, and played a few random notes into the loop, added in a bit of this and that, added in some very high pitched notes, random guitars mostly – and then locked the loop.


All kinds of musical events are going on in this piece, fast, slow, medium, twiddly, constant, high, low, moving pitch pedal parts, ebows – a whole universe of guitar sounds, assembled very quickly indeed.


Then I was presented with a challenge – I liked the randomness of the loop’s content, but, it sounded a bit “messy” with no treatment, so one of those loops that sounds good only if you give it the RIGHT treatment.


In this case, after quite a bit of experimentation, that turned out to be a slowly auto-panning phaser or phase shifter – which took the overly busy parts and smoothed them right over, until the piece sounds subtler, more subdued than it really is.  I would note also, that as on other pieces, the subtle use of a MIDI continuous controller is once again in evidence – in this case, the “speed” of the auto-panner is altered slightly, making parts of the piece appear to “go faster” than other parts – achieved using a continuous controller pedal, as the track is being mastered, I am adjusting the auto-panner with my foot!


I would often do this – not just treat the track by running it through a reverb or a phaser or a flanger, but VARIABLY treat it using the CC pedals that I lovingly set up ahead of time, each one controlling a specific aspect or aspects of that “treatment’s” parameters – in this case, how quickly the phaser pans from left to right and back again.


I really think that by choosing the phase shifter as the treatment for this piece, that it turns an otherwise somewhat unremarkable piece into something that really does sound quite astral and otherworldly.


Another sudden ending – I think I felt at the time that this draws the attention of the listener, and lets them know “new song starts NOW” – and hopefully, the next track draws them in, under a different spell.





That next “spell” is to be provided by “arena”, which closed “Side One” of the original cassette.  Its name is derived (as several tracks scattered about the catalogue tend to be – “Fantasia” by Bindlestiff being another) from the reverb voice used to treat the loop – a large reverb room on the Digitech TSR-24S with the patch name “arena”.


The reason for that name choice was simple – I was literally stuck for a name for the piece.  I had it finished for days – and could NOT think of an appropriate name.  So I started thinking about how it was made, and then it seemed obvious – it was created with the patch “arena”...so this IS “arena”.


And it actually sounds like an arena – a big, open, space – where a lot happens.


This was another piece without any samples (in fact, on “Side One”, only “circa” and “raga” have samples, I was trying to use them sparingly but effectively) so this piece was literally just a longer loop that I created one day, with ebows, lots and lots of ebows overdubbed on the Oberheim – a live performance, or rather, this is the loop that resulted from a live ebow improvisation.


So in this case, the process was incredibly simple – I played this loop, with its slowly descending motif, and then on top, more and more overdubs, there are probably about twenty (or more) ebows there all told, including some lovely ones that come swooping down during part of the loop, so there is both slow descending motion and at the same time, very quick descending motion - which also compliments the overall sense of a slowly descending scale.


This piece is probably akin to both “Descent” by Bindlestiff (which appears on both the “Early” and the “Live” albums) and “Energy Descending” from my album “Charm Zone” – I find this to be a very evocative pattern to work with when looping.


So “arena” joins a growing family of descending loops, and fades into the distance after a lovely, long run – and that beautiful reverb really adds to the character of the track.




Cassette “Side Two” now begins, with a very different kind of loop.





“exeat” is one of those fragile, beautiful loops that I wish I could experience more of. Basically, it has to be very carefully constructed, so that at EXACTLY the same moment during the loop’s “revolution”, the group of notes “swells” to a musical climax.


This is unashamedly based on a looping style that Robert Fripp defined back in the days of Frippertronics, and I was thinking about one of those loops when I created “exeat”.


It’s run into a medium to short reverb of some kind, which enhances the beauty of the “pulse” or “swell” point in the loop.


This is probably my most successful attempt at this “type” of loop – not an easy one to get, but when they work, they work beautifully.  Fragile, beautiful, ethereal – “exeat” meets all the expectations I had for it, it just sounds right, and I am very proud of it.


It ends suddenly into the short reverb, and after a brief pause, the next piece, “vivid”, begins.





I could try to write about “vivid” for the rest of my life, and never put down on paper how this piece sounds – it simply MUST be experienced for the listener to truly understand.


This is another improvised loop, and I notice here the use of a particular technique that I use a LOT but never mention, which is that the tone controls of my guitar are turned ALL THE WAY off when I use the ebow.


I learned early on, that the ebow responds somewhat badly to guitar tone controls being cranked up, the more treble you have on your tone control, the worse the ebow sounds (in my opinion) and for most ebow loops, live solos, whatever, I will tend to set the tone controls either off, or, very, very low, at 1, or 2 at the most, which gives the purest, most seamless tone - but a tone that has basically no treble element whatsoever.


If you increase the tone, the ebows get very brash, over bright, almost painful to listen to. Most people that use an ebow haven’t really thought this through, but to me, it is absolutely critical that I get the tone RIGHT, and I feel very unhappy if ebows break up, are too tinny, too brassy, too harsh – and any or all of those can come simply from the tone controls of your guitar being set too high.


So in this piece, I start, very carefully, with my deep-bass-toned ebow, and I build up a lovely, ethereal loop.  Then, on a whim, I grab my Discman, put in an unknown disc of classical music, skip to a random track, start it, and then open the loop briefly, perhaps, two or three times, capturing just little bits of the classical strings, merging perfectly, utterly unplanned, with the existing ebow parts. To this day, I do not know what classical disc, composer, performer or piece it was.  But it blends BEAUTIFULLY and PERFECTLY with the ebow loop that is “vivid”.


I may have added a few more ebows to “finish” the track, but the result of adding in those tiny, totally random string parts – almost magically turned an already-lovely track into a compelling, hypnotic, beautiful one.


This is possibly my “other favourite” track from “transitory”, along with “circa”, this piece captures a vision I had of the purest, most beautiful ebow guitars, layered carefully one atop the other, and in these two tracks alone, the intention of “transitory” is met and discharged completely – they meet the goal I mentally set for myself.  I’ve not heard too many loops as beautiful as “vivid” – and I would not say that lightly, I am normally very, very critical of my own work, but in the case of “vivid” – I find nothing whatsoever wrong with it.


If forced to come up with a negative, it would be simply that it does not last for 80 minutes – alas, it only lasts for just five minutes - and every time it ends, all I can wish is - why can’t it just go on and on forever?  I think it just creates a vivid, beautiful atmosphere of its own, and it has to heard to be understood.  I could write pages and pages about this song – but it is really much better if you just listen to it – then, you will understand.


If I could be remembered for one song, it would be “vivid” – the stately strings hiding in amongst the placid, melodic layers of energy bow – mysterious, deliberate, and ever so easy on the ears.





A hard act to follow then, is “vivid”, but the next track does its best – and again, it’s quite unique in that it’s intentionally been allowed to deteriorate – by reducing the feedback, and then increasing it again after sound has been lost – repeated feedback reductions, then increasing it yet again, and very quickly, an enormous amount of “white noise” accumulates – this is basically a case where I am deliberately “mis-using” the Oberheim, seeing if I can accumulate so much noise that I can actually use it as part of the composition.  


So we have a loop with long, slowly / slightly ascending energy bows – many, many long, long notes, including both two octaves up and two octaves down material, so across a very broad spectrum of possible notes – I believe too, that part of this loop was created and then reversed, and then many, many “forward” overdubs were done “on top of” the reversed material – the “bass notes”, and other ebow notes, do appear to being going backwards, while the main, long notes and other ebow melodies are going forwards.


Even without the white noise, it’s a nice piece of music, I love the backwards-bass notes, and the lovely, deep bass tone ebow lines…all “awash” in a sea of white noise.  A very unusual piece for me, since I spend most of my time trying to AVOID noise like this, it was odd to intentionally “mess up” the loop, by looping things so many times, and by reducing the feedback which allows the whole piece to “decay”, and then RE-capturing that decayed piece – decaying it further – re-capturing again, and yet again…I recall that it took a few hours of work to get this piece to this state.





Another diversion, another musical road to try, before moving on, and now “awash” gives way to the penultimate piece on the record, “pelican”.  I think that this piece often gets overlooked, there are so many unique pieces on this record, and tucked away in the next to last position on the record, it is easy enough to overlook.


I absolutely think it is spot on, again, it has no samples, in fact, I believe, on “Side Two” only “vivid” contains a sample – none of the other pieces do.  It’s a very slow, sad, stately energy bow loop – when I hear it, I can almost envision a pelican soaring over the Pacific ocean, a common sight for me living in Southern California at the time.


The loop is somewhat similar to “exeat” in that it contains swell points, but different in that it’s not a single swell point as “exeat” has, but rather, “pelican” has several more subtle swell points, where the ebows build and build and build, then back down; then build back up, so it is a similar idea to “exeat”, but the swells are less distinct.


The minor key, the sad mood, this is possibly the saddest song on the record, wistful, but I like it’s simplicity – I simply recorded it as a live loop, locked the loop, selected a nice big reverb to treat it with, and recorded the resulting loop.  I wish they were all this easy.





And now to the last song from the original “transitory” cassette version, “wind” which is again, a very different piece, based on a very simple premise – it’s like a “swell loop” in construction, except the swell is replaced by a very, very quick, descending, high-speed energy bow “run” of notes – so the loop goes round and round, with its almost Scottish / Highland melodic flavour, major scale, upbeat, processed through a patch called “Bright Detune” – a very dry patch compared to most, but ideal to create the kind of dusty, swirling atmosphere I was after.


I very much enjoy too, the strange dissonance of that incredibly fast downward riff, disturbing the rhythmic flow of the piece on a predictable, regular basis.  I believe as the piece went on, I actually was adding more parts, making it more dense, and that INCLUDES doing some “harmony” parts on the descending bit – so by the end, it’s a downward flurry of high-speed energy bow harmonies - many harmonies, one twisting, convoluted run down the neck of the guitar - layered with additional live descending guitars.


This is the longest piece on the record, because it’s so different, I wanted it to run long so it would get stuck in your brain, a major scale, happy sounding song – with that one moment of mystery in it – to leave your brain with a happy sensation rather than the more sombre, serious and sometimes sad moods created by the other pieces on the record.






When it came time to re-master “transitory” for CD release, I simply had absolutely no bonus material whatsoever.  Since I had made each piece in sequence, and had completely and inexplicably abandoned my previous method (used on the album just prior to this, “Other Memory/Sand Island) of making several different “versions” of each loop, and then picking the best one or more – not so on “transitory” – each track was a unique project, I did one version – and that was it – and moved on.


But, scratching my head mentally, what could I do to “create” a bonus track that would make sense, but not disrupt the flow and the careful sequence of these unique tracks?


It then struck me that “circa” might just well sound really, really good if I reversed it, so I took the ENTIRE final track of “circa”, reversed it, and instantly I had it – “round” – which takes us full circle, back to the beginning – you hear it backwards, the whole piece, fading in so, so slowly, ethereal – beautiful – and if you put your player on repeat, it leads directly into…”circa” – playing forwards.


This creates a musical, structural link, allowing you to play the album endlessly and have the last track, “round”, the only bonus track on “transitory” – lead you right back to the beginning of the album ...right back to “circa”.







Thus ends what is possibly my most successful set of loop experiments, direct, simple, and spontaneous.  I am very proud of this record, and I still enjoy listening to it today, some 14 years on (writing as of 2010) – and I would still happily work on new loops using a similar approach in the present day, taking advantage of course, of improvements in looping technology.


I would be very happy if I find that fifteen years down the line, I could make a record as good as “transitory”.  Therein lies the challenge.


In the meantime, I moved on to my next musical challenge – combining the acoustic Crafty guitar with the concept of looping.  For the next project, I would be trying to see what I could do with the available skills and technology I had on hand, moving forward, testing what I could accomplish, based on what I’d done before; but also utilising the new skills and tools that I acquired over time.


“transitory” turned out to be, by accident, a “bridge between” – the last and most mature of a series of albums that were mostly about looping – but, the next two records would be very different, very specialised, so in a way “transitory” was both an ending to the first “series” of loop guitar records, but also a transition, a bridge, between the “standard” looping album and the specialist projects of the upcoming two albums, “1867” and “Circulation”.


This album remains close to my heart and it holds a very special meaning for me, it was the validation of all that had gone before and the roots of what was to come – a pivotal, critical point in my solo career and my development as an “ambient looping guitarist” – which is what I had become, by accident or design - I am not quite sure.



Please see the entry for “1867” to read what happens next - the previous album is “other memory / sand island”.


notes from the guitarist’s seat:



quiet... peaceful...  ambient music.  pureambient music.

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