the autoreverse sessions - ep

dave stafford



Ian C. Stewart, August 2010:


The AUTOreverse Sessions were exclusive recordings made for the autoreverse.net web site in the late 1990s, usually 3-4 songs, which were usually streamed online for a month or so.

notes from the independent music media:

Dave Stafford, September 2010: Responding to a challenge from my esteemed colleague Ian Stewart, “The Autoreverse Sessions” is an album created very quickly, in completely live sessions, for the purpose of being an audio adjunct to the then-forthcoming issue of AUTOreverse Magazine.


Ian had asked for “a few tracks” and this EP was what he got.  I feel fortunate that I was in the place I was musically, because at that point, in 1999, I now had over ten years of looping experience, and was reaching a point where looping had become “second nature” much in the way ordinary picked guitar playing might become second nature to a normal guitarist.


So, armed with my trusty energy bow and the latest version of the Stafford pedalboard, I sat down to compose, record and produce “The Autoreverse Sessions” – the first time I had ever worked based on a colleague’s request, and I was very happily surprised at the speed, and the ease with which, I was able to create these pieces of music.


Looking back at the entire catalogue, I could quite easily say now that this was the “easiest” album to make out of all of them – because it just happened.  Ian asked me; I said “yes”; I began recording, and very, very soon – a new Dave Stafford CD existed.


I am not sure, but I believe I sent Ian several copies and asked him to send them out with the magazine, but I don’t know if that actually happened or not.  The idea being that if you bought the magazine, you got the CD for free.


Regardless of its commercial success, I feel that “The Autoreverse Sessions” is one of the most natural, relaxed, and completely “real” records I’ve ever made.  I enjoy it very much to this day, every track; it feels comfortable and calm and peaceful – and joyful, too.





The opening piece on the record was an obvious “signal” from me that this record was going to be a little different, a little edgier, and a little bit fiercer perhaps – than previous “loop” albums may have been.


“Falling Star” is basically a pattern of five against various patterns of two.  A five note motif is established immediately, but the difference now is that gone are the pure, bassy ebow tones, instead, a strangely-harmonised, thinner guitar tone, is fed through a very odd stereo reverb, and as the five note pattern repeats, it moves across the stereo field in a bizarre and unsettling way.


As new content is added, different harmonisers seem to be employed, and the piece builds up quite quickly, the higher register information starting now to give way to darker, low pitched ebows, playing fiercely, quickly, insistently, atop the calmer five note pattern in the background.


What I particularly enjoy about this track is that it’s utterly honest – it’s not perfect, you can hear that perhaps, it’s a bit of a struggle for the guitarist, keeping those strange harmonisations in tune with each other, trying to keep the looped content changing as the piece progresses, trying to solo effectively on top of the loop – and, in the main, he succeeds. The piece is absolutely live – this is what happened.


Five minutes in, the wild soloing halts, and the loop backs down a little bit, becomes calmer, darker.  A few longer notes are introduced, which always pacifies any loop.  Those beautiful two note riffs, with the low note harmony, return to fill in the lower pitch registers.  Two note trills work along with the rest of the musical content, which is now a bewildering array of five note riffs, two note riffs, long, single notes (these starting to take over now…) trills, slides, and the ongoing soloing.


At the seven-minute mark, the piece has changed completely from what it originally was. The longer notes are prevailing, a sense of calm is finally emerging, some beautiful “slides down” begin to occur, meanwhile, what was very active content, trills and solos, have moved into the “background” of the loop – this tells me then that the feedback level is not at full, so new content is gradually replacing old content in the loop – always a good thing.


The long notes now completely prevailing, insistent, driving those melodies and solos away, until the remainder is mostly consisting of the long notes, with all the earlier content either completely inaudible or so low level as to be effectively non-existent.


I really like how the piece changes, and by the end, it’s completely peaceful, slow, slower, until almost all activity ceases.


A final slide down, and suddenly, “Falling Star” is gone.





Meaning “handkerchief” in Japanese, this is also the character’s name of the female lead in a Japanese TV program I was watching at the time.  Most of the titles for the songs on this record come directly from that show, and in this case, the loop reflects the character’s sorrow very well indeed.


Another completely live loop – a long ebow note to start, and then slowly, harmonies begin, a descending motif, very slow, very sad with lovely silences – then, those amazing high notes, carefully wandering in amongst the ordinary notes, the loop building EVER so slowly (as live loops tend to do when you are using long phrases).


I was thinking of an unusual device, called a “chord egg”, which is just a toy really, that plays “chords” randomly, they just wander out in any order, it’s quite a nice sound, and when I made this loop, it reminded me of a “chord egg” piece – because it just grows so organically, I can hear the ebow tone being altered too, a tiny bit more treble being added, to brighten the loop – but always, always, more and more and more notes slowly being added, until the loop is so full, so rich – then, at 3:53, it happens – the real melody of the piece begins.


So, almost four minutes spent just making up a background, a very lush, chordal layer of many, many, many ebows – and finally, I begin the song!


I like this idea, that the main melody of the song should begin very, very late into the piece – strangely, the four minute introduction still brings to mind the melody, because the two are so interwoven, they belong together – even though the melody is absent during the first four minutes!


A high-pitched “helper” melody is added, and then suddenly, beginning at 5:53 an incredibly quick whirlwind twirling, swirling ebow solo takes place – and is gone just as quickly.


The melody returns, repeating and repeating, while the backing supports it beautifully.  I love the use of the high-pitched notes in this piece; they really lift it up to a special place.  It’s also incredibly slow, a beautiful tempo, so deliberate and so intense.


And then, quite suddenly – it disappears.





This to me is an excellent example of a solo circulation.  A year after making a full album of circulations, faced with the challenge of creating four long pieces of music for Autoreverse, I thought the natural thing would be to add to the ebow pieces, add in one circulation, to break up the sound of the energy bows – without this piece, the entire EP would be ALL ebows – and I wanted some kind of textural change.


So I decided to have a go at a solo circulation, and “Miniature Garden” was born.  I love how it builds up, note by note, quite quickly, and the reverb used has a springy, bouncing quality to it.  


But perhaps most beautiful of all, is what happens at 5:55.  I’ve been playing along, live, filling in all the notes, and then, locking the loop, I let it play.  Suddenly, at 5:55, I reached out and hit “reverse” – and the entire loop starts playing backwards.


I then slowly reduced the output level of the Oberheim Echoplex Pro looper, so that it fades away fairly quickly, but that backwards section – how incredibly lush and beautiful – there is nothing on earth like the sound of a circulation reversed.


Another completely live take, it is what it is, not perfect, but lovely indeed, it would be nice enough just as a circulation, but the added bonus of the spontaneous decision to reverse the loop – a good decision – makes the piece all the more special.


And, it does provide the textural change desired, it takes us to the “gently picked” sound which does give us a “break” from the eternal, forever-long notes of the energy bow that pervade every other song on the record.  Not that there is anything wrong with that – but, I felt, something “different” was in order – and, “Miniature Garden” seemed just the ticket.





And finally, we come to that place of extreme calm, a loop so stately, so slow, so beautiful – a four-note descending pattern starts out, is joined by another descending/ascending pattern, then as more layers are added, simple melodies emerge, but still, so cautiously, so gently…as if one wrong move could disturb the whole thing.


Which is could have, but, incredibly, I don’t really make any wrong moves, and the loop grows in intensity, the layers building inevitably, blending and singing together, wistful, heartbreaking in the way only looped energy bow guitars can be.


Momentarily, high-pitched ebows appear, but then disappear for a long while – then suddenly, in a strange, piercing moment, re-appear – floating far above the rest of the contents of the loop.


Another drifting, floating melody flows past now, this is actually one of the longest live, solo ebow loops I ever performed, so the piece evolves VERY slowly, very organically, just a little bit at a time – I’ve never before heard myself proceed so cautiously.


Gradually, any remaining silences are filled with yet more energy bows, and the loop now feels “full” – it’s reached a point where it has a thick, brooding presence, and there it sits, almost but not quite ominous, but also loving, enveloping us with it’s calming waves of sound.


Then – it just PLAYS.  Plays and plays, but, it’s character changes, it becomes more muted – the feedback is obviously turned to less than 100%, so for example, those very dominant high-pitched notes have now become very, very mellow and are very much in the background, and also now seem to be very much more in the background of the loop, and the whole piece has taken on a much more ambient feel.


This is really a bit of an “ugly duckling” piece – starting out slightly uncertain, but, somewhere maybe half-way through, slowly but certainly mutating and morphing into a beautiful, beautiful loop – and then, one long, single note fades – and suddenly, the track, and the album, is over.


At over fifteen and a half minutes long, (beside “The Scattering” which doesn’t really count as a proper, ambient loop piece) “Once In A Blue Moon” might well be one of the longest solo loops I’ve ever done.  It’s certainly an intense one, musically speaking, but, it is a lovely way to end the album in any case.







It should be noted that all four tracks on “The Autoreverse Sessions” are 100% live to tape, and in every case, no pre-existing loops or any sound at all was present – what you hear, is the full experience, start to finish, for each song.


I think this shows that finally, as the 90s came to a close, and the 00s began, that I was starting to have the confidence to just “play” and allow entire pieces to appear, and, no longer feeling the need to hide parts of the music, not concealing the creation stages of the loops, but just allowing the pieces to be…what the pieces are.


I was so pleased that Ian asked me to do this, and I hope he is satisfied with the result.  It was an honour to work with AUTOreverse magazine, and to create music to go along with one of their issues.  It was an amazing musical experience too, one that I enjoyed immensely.  I am happy that we can now make this project available more widely, here on pureambient.com, more than ten years since it was first released in 1999.



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





notes from the guitarist’s seat:


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

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