dave stafford



Dave Stafford, August 2010: For me personally, one of the most compelling and important aspects of any and all Guitar Craft courses is the musical form called a “circulation”.


I was introduced to this on my very first course in 1988, and had the privilege to be involved in many, many live performances involving circulations, in various sized groups of guitarists, at different Guitar Craft courses over the past 22 years (from 1988 to 2010).


I fell in love with the sound, and the feeling, of the circulation.  It seems a simple enough concept, but the truth is, it’s possibly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned.  On the surface, it’s just the passing of a note, or notes, from player to player around a circle (or later, notes moving across a circle, notes going clockwise AND anti-clockwise around the circle, “throwing” notes out or into the circle…).  Beneath the surface though, you gradually realise over the years, a circulation is much, much more than the passing of a note from player to player.


Finally, nearer the end of Guitar Craft, the circulation gave way to a new form – the Whizz.  This was a logical step forward, an entire chord this time, but, not gently passed – in this case, thrown, at super high speed, around the circle.  The Whizz has a very different characteristic to the original circulation concept – but both are excellent in their respective ways, and are a joy to experience.


Each time I went to a course, I found myself looking forward to any opportunity to work with circulations.  At one course, the emerging theme was a figure in G minor, played by one guitarist, like an anchor, while the rest of the group, about 25 people, played an accompanying circulation.


We practiced this piece all week long, and on the final night, performed it in front of guests.  Of course, to make things interesting, just as we began the piece – Robert shut off the house lights, plunging us into complete darkness.  Igor kept studiously on with his figure in G minor, while the rest of us struggled to circulate in complete darkness.


But – we made it through.  It’s interesting to find out that you don’t actually need to be able to “see” to play a piece of music.  I’ve learned that lesson more than once.


So for me, at any and all courses, when it came time to circulate – I was there.


Not every circulation is good.  You are only as good as the weakest player.  The human element becomes extremely important.  It’s not just playing a piece of music, it’s actually a test of communication as well.  Can you “feel” a note coming towards you, can you “receive” it properly, can you then “pass it along” without missing a beat?


I’ve seen the note arrive at a person and the person sat there in stunned silence, having no idea it’s their “turn”; I’ve seen the note arrive and the person react with a stammering, stuttering attempt to play a half-hearted note; I’ve seen the note arrive and the person just make a dull, blunted sound with the pick, missing or muting the note entirely and just making a click or thud sound…but if we are fortunate, and everyone pays attention – and, if we are conscious of what notes we are playing if we’ve agreed a key – then the magic of a good circulation can, and often does, happen.


Some circulations can be “planned” – well, at least, a set of instructions is created, say, we will play only the notes C D Eb F G A B, and no others.  Invariably, when those rules were in place – someone would always play a note not in the agreed list.  And you knew immediately!


Some circulations are random, and sometimes, those are the best, because you simply DO NOT KNOW what may happen.  Sometimes they are dark, sinister, and strange.  Sometimes they are light, fragile – incredibly fragile – and they just float, quietly, notes drifting around the circle.  Sometimes they are insistent, fast, challenging, powerful – they can be quite intense.


As the years went by, new variations were included within the circulation “form”.  The idea of notes moving both clockwise and anti-clockwise began a few years in.  Then, the idea of a note being bounced back and forth ACROSS the circle, between two players, or, between many players – WHILE another note travelled around the circle in the “traditional” circulation form.


Eventually, after 20-plus years of improvements, the circulation gave birth to a new variant – the Whizz.


But in 1998, when I made this album, the traditional circulation was pretty much all we had.  So that is the type of circulation I emulated when I made the album “Circulation”.


Once again, I had just recently been on a Guitar Craft course, and I came back inspired and wanting to make my next album something very special.  I had fallen further in love with circulations at this course, and wished I had other players available to me so I could DO circulations.  Unfortunately, at that point in time, I was the only Crafty in San Diego, California, so I was on my own.


So I set out to see if I could possibly….somehow, I did not know how…do a circulation by myself, using my looping device instead of other human beings to “circulate” notes.


At first, it was purely trial and error, but after a few weeks, I actually had a repeatable process, and if I was very careful, I could produce “circulations” from nothing, just one guitar and one looping device.


So the set up, for the entire album, is identical:  one Ibanez Destroyer solid-body electric guitar, plugged into the Oberheim Echoplex Pro looping device, and thence into the Digitech TSR-24S 24-bit reverb to apply varying “atmospheres”.


I decide how many “notes” or “players” there are going to be, so I know how to COUNT the piece as I go.  All of these pieces had to be strictly counted, or you would very soon “lose track” and make an error.  I learned by trial and error that you MUST, MUST, MUST count a circulation for it to really, truly “work”.


I would select what atmosphere I wanted, what reverb or other effect, I would select and set that.  Then, I would hit “record” on the tape deck, and begin the “solo circulation” process.


First, I hit “record” on the looping device, and then, I play one note.  I then count silently, the next, say seven notes (let’s assume this is a piece with 8 notes in it).


Then, and this is the tricky part, after the “place in time” where Note 8 will be, but BEFORE "Note 1" “plays back”, I “close” the loop, the Oberheim is good because you can just go straight to OVERDUB, which was crucial because very, very shortly, “Guitarist 2” needed to be present to play “his” note.


So that’s the very tricky part, the hardest part – switching to Overdub at the EXACT, correct moment, so that the entire piece is the RIGHT LENGTH to support eight notes – only ONE of which so far exists.


Play "Note 1", count silently from Notes 2 through 8, switch to overdub, and just after "Note 1" plays (still counting along as well!) play "Note 2", then silently count Notes 3 through 8.


Then, next iteration, after notes 1 and 2 play, “Guitarist No. 3” plays "Note 3" .  Silently count notes 4 through 8.


This process continues until Note 8 is played.  At that point, the loop is then locked, and it just continues to play until further notice.  Generally, I would create the loop as described, and then let it play for anywhere from one to several minutes, and that would be that - piece finished.  I would also though, while the loop was still running, make other recordings of just the “finished loop” which I then used as separate pieces on the album.


That’s the simple version of a looped circulation.  However, I made it more difficult for myself, what I would do, would be to do, let’s say, six “sets” of eight notes each.  And maybe have a theme, perhaps the "Note 1" of each of the six iterations makes up a descending scale, but then the "Note 2" of each ASCENDS, and so on.


So it became much, much trickier, because you would be counting from one to eight; you would need to know what “bar” you were on, you it would be like “OK, I’m on "Note 3" in bar 5…next is "Note 3" in bar six – then, when bar 1 starts again, you would have to wait until the THIRD note sounds, and play your first "Note 4" – and, it was very easy to get lost, to lose your place – and if you missed a note, that was it – game over.  The track would be scrap, and you would have to start ALL over again.


I made a lot of mistakes.  Many, many takes had to be discarded, sometimes after hours of work.  It was devilishly difficult to do.


The album is made up mostly of “locked loop” circulations – pieces that are completely finished, and what you are hearing is just the completed loop.  But in a few cases, I’ve included the ENTIRE process, starting with ONE lonely note followed by silence, and you hear, slowly, the piece being built up, the loop locked, and the circulation left to play out.


So we have a combination of completely live, fully created on-the-spot circulations, and others where I have bypassed the creation stage and just presented the resulting, “complete” circulation.  


I feel that both types have value, and I played in a variety of keys, with a variety of atmospheres, but trying very hard to have a very gentle, consistent approach for EVERY piece…because I felt, and I still feel, that the circulation is one of the most important, beautiful musical forms ever devised, and it’s down to Robert Fripp, in the context of Guitar Craft – it was Robert’s idea, but I feel proud that I was able to create a new and unique variation, a circulation that technically shouldn’t be possible – because “of course” when you play a circulation, by definition, there should be at least two players, preferably more.


I must mention too, that at a Guitar Craft course many years later, at lunch the entire group was having a discussion about the nature of circulations.  I stood up and stated that it was my belief that the best way to ensure the quality of a circulation was to COUNT it – all the other methods being proposed being potentially flawed – body language, visual signals, eye contact – all unreliable, all unpredictable – but if you COUNT, and play your note on your count number – you can’t lose.


I then said “I have found this to be true when practicing solo circulations at home”.


That immediately got an astonished question from the head table, Paul Richards of the California Guitar Trio asking the question “what do you mean, practising by yourself?  How do you do a solo circulation?”


I stood back up, and said “with a very long delay and a lot of patience”.  A lot of murmuring was the only reply to that.


Even small groups use circulations though, the California Guitar Trio being one such group – they use circulations within classical and within other original music, to play very fast parts more fluidly.  But even with three players – it just works.


I wanted to see if I could manage it with ONE player.  I believe I succeeded, beyond my wildest expectations, and in some ways, this may be the best record I’ve ever made, or at least, the “purest” musically.


EVERY SOUND on this record is a SINGLE NOTE played on electric guitar tuned to the new standard tuning.





This is one of the few full, live circulations, which is a sequence of eight notes, with five different iterations.  I can hear that I have used a low note on iteration five – that’s to help me remember that the iteration is about to change back to iteration one, and that will mean, I will move from the current  “Note” to the next “Note”.


So what you hear is, five bars, with just "Note 1", and seven counts of silence between the five "Note 1"s.


Then, the first time bar 1 returns, you hear me add in "Note 2".  Five bars with two notes, bar 1 returns for the third time, and you hear me add in "Note 3".


This obviously continues until I have added in all eight notes, into all five iterations – so this piece contains exactly 40 individual notes, each one played separately.  Once I’ve done that (and breathed an ENORMOUS sigh of relief) I would then have locked the loop, turned off my guitar, and just sat there while the complete loop plays into the beautiful reverb.


All that remained to do was to “select” the moment to stop the piece.  That was achieved by simply turning the output of the looper OFF, but leaving the reverb on and turned up – so the final note is “removed” from the reverb, and it lingers on fading out over a long period of time.


Again, a critical moment – if you didn’t kill the output fast enough, another note might start, if you did it too fast, you might accidentally truncate or damage your final note – so that moment was just as dangerous as that very difficult moment where you switch to overdub and then immediately have to play "Note 2".


Luckily, I have many years of experience at stopping loops at just the right moment, so I did manage to get a lot of really good endings on this records – usually, a note just left hanging in a beautiful reverb “room”.





The first of many “completed” loops, I skipped the build process on this loop, so the finished loop was just running in the Oberheim Echoplex Pro Looper, and I suddenly brought up the output of the looper to “start” the piece.  This one has a very, very fast tempo, and it’s a few iterations of a locked six-note loop.  I love the speed, of course, because each note is played individually, you can actually SEEM to play very, very “fast” simply by placing a “following note” VERY close to the preceding one.  In this piece, some of the notes are so close together they are in danger of colliding.


I love how some of the iterations are very gentle, and I stop the loop at its quietest point, so it seems to just drift off into space…





Another “finished” loop, this one with a spectacularly beautiful ambient reverb, and in this case, I chose to gradually fade in the playing loop, which, coupled with that amazing reverb, has a most beautiful and probably never again achievable ambience to it.


This loop also has one iteration where by complete accident (and this happens in circulations with real players too) I chose the same note, so during that iteration, the piece seems to halt, the same note is repeated a few times during the iteration, then, it resumes.


That is just one of those natural accidents that make circulations so charming in real life, unexpected things happen, players chose notes that you do not expect.  Sometimes those notes are beautiful, other times, not, but it’s always interesting.  The same is true in solo circulations, and this is a perfect example of a typical solo circulation – not musically perfect, but it could not be more “real” or “true”.


I love the unintentional melody of this piece, the sequence was totally unplanned, it just unfolds like a careful, step-by-step journey through a fog-laden wood.  And then it somehow resolves, with beautiful pauses, including that lovely high note.


A few more cautious iterations, and the piece is over.





This loop is also obviously a complete one, with a very quick tempo, and to heighten that sensation, the piece is performed into a short, gated reverb, which tends to “blur” notes together anyway.


Another fade in, this time a quicker one, to reflect the faster pace of the piece, and the mood here is different again, the unusual reverb sound taking the clusters of notes to a different place – and then suddenly, on a very tightly clustered pair of notes – it’s gone.





The single note beginning gives away the fact that this is a complete, live to tape, solo circulation loop, this time, a sequence of five notes – but, just to challenge myself further still, this time with no less than THIRTEEN iterations.


Again, I gave myself an assist, by making sure that I would always know when I got back to iteration 1 – I made sure that "Note 1" of bar 13 was unique, so I would always “know” when I was at the end of the sequence.  So when it got to "Note 1" of bar 13, I used the volume control on my guitar and FADED the note in, instead of picking it like all the others.


Which in the event made me very glad, as in fact, I think that fade in each time really makes the piece, one other notes are added to it, it just makes bar 13 so lovely each time – so final, so exquisite.


So you get to hear the entire build process – 13 single, "Note 1"s, then, 13 bars adding in "Note 2", until all five notes are in place.  So this piece contains 65 individual notes, ONE of which has a volume control fade in.  But some are full on picked, others, gently picked, so you do get variation.


Also, one of the "Note 1" notes was a bit of an unusual choice, and in amongst the 65 notes, there are some strange choices.  Then, at 6:18, disaster struck – I missed my cue, and hit a note early – covering over another note.  My reaction of course then was to try and mask that – so I played a two-note twirl directly after that to distract.


Then when that bar returns, I decide to escape while I can, and I stop the piece, and I do so while that just-recorded twirl is still playing.


Now, this was a hard choice, I had tried this “many iterations” loop several times, and in most of them, they just broke down well before I could finish all the iterations.  I liked this take, and decided that as an example of a 65 note solo circulation, I would leave in the error – which might very probably not have been noticed had I not just called attention to it.


But imperfection is just reality, and in this case, the quality and beauty of the loop outweighed the problem of the missed cue and the addition of the little two-note twirl.


I could have faded it out, but, I just left it as it happened – that’s what was real.





Following a practice developed back in 1994/1995, if I liked a certain loop, I might make several different recordings of it, using very different “treatments” which sometimes would completely alter the characteristic mood of the piece.


In line with that practice, Movement No. 6 is simply a different version, featuring a different treatment, of Movement No. 3.  I found in practice that unless you “know” this, because of the gentle, meditative feel of the entire record, you would never even notice that sometimes, you are hearing a piece again that you already heard earlier.


It all just contributes to the mood, and I love the atmosphere of this piece.  I find that many circulations have a slightly hypnotic effect, and it’s easy to get “lost” or “caught up” in listening.


This is a piece that completely captures my ear.




This is an unusual variation, in that it’s a “completed version” of a “fully built version” – in this case, a completed locked-loop alternate recording of Movement No. 1.  So after I recorded the full loop, which is Movement No. 1, I then made other recordings of the locked completed loop, of which this is one.


So we have our 40 note loop, with its five iterations of eight notes each, treated with a different reverb, in a different context – again, you probably wouldn’t notice that you had “heard this before” way back on Track 1 of the disc.




A very warm, bass oriented reverb here, a short to medium reverb, but one that serves this fairly quick piece well, it gives the notes just enough radiance to fade away when the next note hits – giving it a very “continuous” feel.


It’s also very, very lovely, when I pick the two bars more softly – and again, I fade out at the gentlest possible moment.


A lovely variation – this time, the six-note motif gives it away, of Movement No. 2.


So this loop yields multiple versions, with very different atmospheres, which serve to provide some thematic continuity, but also to provide different textures.


I really enjoy the melody of this piece, and those two “quiet bars” (at the very end) are absolutely priceless.  I could not have planned them, I have no idea why I played them, but, they bring the piece to a perfect conclusion.





Back to our fast, clustered loop, where, through the fact that this was a new process to me, those clusters are really actually imperfections – me, not hitting the next note at exactly the right moment, not counting steadily or perhaps not counting at all.  Notes land on top of each other, bang together – but, it’s not an unpleasant sound, and since this was really an experiment, I included the piece anyway because it has a unique charm all its own.


Of course, this is just a variation of Movement No. 4, but in this version, you can hear the note “collisions” and the “clustering” much more clearly, this is a bigger, clearer reverb room than the one used on Movement No. 4, so you really hear the honest unedited truth in this version, Movement No. 9.


But, having said that, the notes now playing out in a much larger “space”, I think it has a lovely, tinkling effect, like wind chimes in the breeze, and of course, with the wind, the chimes don’t strike in perfect order or in perfect time.


So I think of this as the “wind chime” circulation, and I love it’s quaint, imperfect note clusters and crashes.  It’s particularly nice in this room sound, and another lovely, unintentional melody that I find to be very positive and uplifting.  A cheerful circulation – if there is such a thing.





Obviously a full length, “built” circulation, this piece has an odd, tremolo/reverb atmosphere, and is built up of five iterations of eight notes – so another 40-note solo circulation, but completely different from Movement No. 1, with a very slow pace, and the first five notes ascending rather than descending – well, four ascending, followed by one low note – again, to “cue” me that the iteration with the low note is the last one in the series.


This one builds very slowly, but I love how it grows, and the long reverb tail leaves you hanging each time.  So even if you have six silent notes, say during the iterations where I am adding in "Note 2" – that beautiful tremolo reverb carries the tail of "Note 2" all the way to the NEXT "Note 1".  


Then, when you get to the third note, the same thing happens again.  And, again, one of the bars ends up having several of the same notes in it – a common occurrence, but a lovely one too.  So you say, three of the five being vaguely melodic, vaguely ascending, one, with many of the same notes, creating a sound of hesitancy, and another, with strange, dark, sinister notes – five different views, five different patterns all joined together into one long beautiful atmospheric loop.


Also, some very interesting note choices, when I get to "Note 2", at bar 5, I hit a very strange note which makes bar 5 end up sounding completely different from all the other bars – bars 1 through 4 are mostly melodic (except for the “hesitant” bar), climbing up, but bar 5 is sinister, strange and wonderful.


I think I was making a conscious effort to use notes of a lower pitch in this piece, I know for a fact that for some of these circulations, I had limited myself to a certain “palette” of allowable notes – but not in this case.


But, whatever “rules” I used for this piece, which are unfortunately lost in time, no matter what, I love the way it has turned out – one moment melodic and peaceful, the next, a moment of hazard, then, peace is restored – and around we go.





A warm, short reverb – not sure if it’s a gated reverb, or possibly a very short reverse reverb is used to great effect on this very short loop,  We just get a glimpse, a fragment, not hardly enough to even realise what is happening – and the piece is gone as soon as it has established a presence.


A nice, warm room sound, a very different environment, and this, again, yet another “version” of the complete loop of Movement No. 1, which appears then three times on the record, once, in it’s full length, live to tape form, and then in two “completed” loops, each with a very different atmosphere.


It’s a good loop, and I am not surprised that I made, and used, multiple takes of it for the record.





Those colliding clusters should be a giveaway, but again, a very different reverb atmosphere providing an air of mystery almost, the notes fall and cascade in a really lovely way.


The Digitech TSR-24S 24-bit reverb is really such an important part of this record, taking completed loops and “running them through a reverb” just to see what audible differences the different treatments would have.


So here we have yet another variation of the fast moving, six note circulation that also appears in the multiple guises as Movement No. 4 and Movement No. 9 – the “wind chime” circulation.


A short, warm reverb treatment gives us a third, sort of dreamy, cloudy version of this now-familiar piece.  I love the randomness of this piece, the way the notes clump and clash and bump in a race to the end.






Dropped into a spectacular reverb with a really long “tail”, another completed loop, this very different rendition of Movement No. 3 is for me a real high point of the album, I love the loops with the REALLY big reverbs, and this is one of those.


A nice, steady, evenly-paced circulation, but very definite notes, notes that are strong, powerful, confident – but then also, moments that are quieter, more meditative – and the reverb really adds a lot, when I emphasize a certain note, the reverb will take that note and make it ring and ring and ring…a beautiful sound.


That mysterious iteration where the same note plays back and forth, halting the proceedings momentarily, and then the piece moves forward again, only to disappear in a rather uncharacteristic medium fade.






It only seemed fitting and proper to end the album with a full, live to tape looped solo circulation – we started that way, we shall end that way.


I wanted to limit the fully built pieces to just a few, because I was afraid that listeners would get bored while just a single note is playing, and then two, and so on – so I only included a handful of fully built pieces. Strangely enough, several early listeners believed the single notes to a piano - not a guitar at all, which, is a testament to the purity of sound I was getting with my very simple, clean set-up.  I went back and listened again, and I can hear, on the fully-built loops, why you might think it’s a piano instead of a guitar.


A fairly long, deep reverb voice, and I am away on my final journey, the last full- length solo circulation I would play for some time.


This one features a gradually descending scale to start, thirteen iterations of six notes, so this is an 84-note solo circulation - with the first notes in bars 11 and 12 played almost inaudibly - that wasn’t intentional, it’s just the way it happened.


Also not intentionally, but very interestingly – I actually stopped adding the sixth note too early, which means strangely, starting at bar 10, the “completed loop” is actually missing it’s sixth note !  So it’s really a 80 note solo circulation, because iterations 1 through 9 each have six notes; while iterations 10 through 13, only five.


I love how the notes somehow seem to cluster in pairs – notes 1 and 2 are one “cluster”, then, an almost imperceptible gap, and then notes 3 and 4 seem to be another “pair” of notes – it’s very strange.  There is no plan to do so, it just…happens, as you are adding the notes.


I can hear too, that I spent some time mentally trying to work out specific scales to play, and many of the bars seem to have an almost-composed feel to them.  Others – simply do not.


A solo circulation at this point in time could be anything from almost completely random, to fairly well planned and reasonably well executed.  In this piece, I hear myself intentionally build a certain melody; adjusting the pace by playing faster or slower in certain bars – just helping and shaping the piece, making it evolve as it were, as I go.


Now, this loop is utterly unique for a number of reasons, but, what I particularly love, is that the “accident” of only having five notes on the last four iterations actually works in my favour, because the piece is pretty “full” sounding on bars 1 through 9, but suddenly, at bar 10, it gains space – and that fifth note gets to reverberate longer too.


So on the final two revolutions, you get a calming, quieting effect, starting at bar 10.


And, because I knew that bars 11 and 12 were very quiet, starting with an extremely quiet note, during the live take, I made the decision to suddenly shut off the loop at the end of bar 12 – NOT, at the end of bar 13 (which was a normal volume picked loop).


By choosing to end at the end of what is probably the quietest, most beautiful bar of music on the whole album, the last notes just drop so mysteriously into that massive reverb, and Movement No. 14, and the album, come to a graceful close.









I feel very surprised, listening to this now, in 2010, that I could actually DO this.  It’s not an easy task – emulate the sound of 8, or 5, or 13 guitarists each playing one note in tandem – by myself.  But, I developed a process, used different reverbs to create different atmospheres – and, “Circulation” was born.


As a whole, when I listen to this, it just feels so, so fragile, held together entirely by faith – and it really was an act of faith.  I was the only person who believed that a “solo circulation” could exist – and, somehow, I found a way for it to exist.


I had wanted to move forward, not just make “another loop album” and in that aspiration, I absolutely succeeded.


I did, very occasionally indeed, attempt to play a live circulation at a looping gig.  But, it was never really as successful as what I captured on this record.


Interestingly, this process felt so intense to me, that once I was done, I pretty much stopped doing it completely, only very, very rarely would I try it – I just found it too draining, too fragile, too beautiful – and – too difficult!


However, the solo circulation does make one spectacular return – on an upcoming Dave Stafford EP, “The Autoreverse Sessions” – and what is particularly strange about that is, in some ways, that single, stand-alone solo circulation, made about one  year AFTER the “Circulation” album – I almost prefer that piece (“Miniature Garden”) to most if not all of the pieces on the actual “Circulation” album!


So “Miniature Garden” is the long-lost son of “Circulation” – and after that, I left this very difficult, very demanding musical form behind permanently, and returned to my first musical love – looping, with the energy bow.


At some point in the future, I will probably revisit the solo circulation form, but, the time and place will have to be just right.  It seems like such an isolated, fragile, dream world, and part of me just says “leave it alone, don’t disturb it, because this will never come again”.


We shall see.




Please see the entry for “Song With No End” to read what happens next - the previous album is “1867”.





























notes from the guitarist’s seat:


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

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