the machinations of heaven - ep

dave stafford



Dave Stafford, September 2010: This is another very different release for me, where I move more towards the world of classical music, and I am mostly favouring keyboards over guitars.  It was a difficult record to make, mostly made during a difficult period of my life, but I wanted to make sure that this record did get released, as it contains some absolutely unique works, of which there are no other similar representations thereof across my entire catalogue.


So from tentative piano compositions to full on joyous church organ improvisations, not to mention the occasional ebow loop,  here at last is “The Machinations Of Heaven” as it was intended to be.





During 2005 – 2006, I became reacquainted with the piano, in the form of software synthesizers, and I played a lot of piano (or synth) during this period, unfortunately, a lot of the time, this was because I didn’t feel well enough to play the guitar.


So that drove me back to the keyboard, which was for me, like going back to the start, back to the 4 year old Dave Stafford, who, after seeing the film “Exodus” in 1962, came home, and picked out the melody to “The Theme From Exodus” on the family piano, by ear.


Over the next ten years, after some abortive lessons, I “taught myself” to play the piano.  I was fortunate too, that at age 13, I met an amazing musician, Ted Holding, who could play the piano far, far better than me – and I then commenced to spend the next five years or so learning EVERYTHING I possibly could from him.  Ted would work out the most amazing pieces, entire tracks from “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – you name it, he could figure it out – and then, painstakingly, painfully – I would get him to teach ME.  


Of course, Ted went on to become a master of the Hammond Organ, early string synths and so on – and we used to have some of the best jam sessions imaginable, myself on lead guitar, Ted on keyboards, and Rick, or Rick and Jennings, on the drums.  I still have the master tapes from those sessions, circa 1976 – 1979, and if time permits, may eventually look at releasing some of them, because there were some really good improvs performed during those sessions.


Back in the world of piano, eventually though, I started to be able to work things out by ear, and at age 20, took a piano course for a few months, and that enabled me to “read music” – although I already understood chords, chord structure, what a seventh was, what intervals are – that course, at least, gave me the ability to sight read, however slowly.


I took that new skill and decoded the Steely Dan piece “Charlie Freak”, and managed a passable version.  So by 13, I could already play, by 15, I could play fairly well, by 18, even better, and by 20, I could play by ear, learn complex pieces by ear, and sight-read pieces if they were or are simple enough.


So naturally, eventually, I would make a piano-based album and, this is it, my first “keyboard album” – MOST of the pieces being performed on a software synthesizer.


Of course, scattered throughout the back catalogue are examples of myself playing keyboards, piano and synthesizers both real and virtual, but on this recording, the keyboard is the primary focus, rather than guitar.


“Begin”, to me, is one of the saddest, most melancholy pieces of music I have ever created.  When I hear it, all I can think of is the year 2004, and the pain I was in, and the hopelessness that I felt later on.  It just oozes…melancholy.


Starting out with a formless, sort of sine wave/electric piano voice, which sounds perhaps more like vibes than electric piano, playing an almost ambient song, something that has structure but you don’t really notice that structure because it’s the MOOD that hits you, and it hits so hard that it actually draws attention away from details like “structure”.


I played the piano part all the way through, and I got it very quickly, probably all in one take. Then, it sat, unfinished.  I would listen to it and think, is this done?  Or should I add something else to it?  I tried many things, but just didn’t feel happy.


Eventually though, I tried a viola or violin like voice, creating a second synth part as an adjunct to my sine-piano-vibes, and got a take that I was happy with.


So this strange, low-key, melancholy soft synth duet is an unlikely opening track, but in a way, it’s a good way to begin, because it says goodbye to the past, it leaves the sorrow and difficulty and melancholy that I felt squarely on the table, it’s there to hear, but after that – it’s gone.


I wouldn’t let the historical facts around the track deter you from it, objectively, I think it’s expressive and musical, and I am glad I created it and included it on the album.  Personally, it does hold a lot of difficult memories, but that is incidental and should not detract from the experience of listening.





I’ve long loved the sound of the church organ, and having a couple of very, very beautiful, multi-timbral “church organ” sounds in my SONAR 4 soft synth arsenal, I was very much wanting to use them.


I hit upon the perfect vehicle to do so – a lovely little two-chord guitar loop I had made earlier on, that I had no particular use for.


The loop just moves, quietly, contemplatively, between two major chords, back and forth, a very, very simple piece of clean, picked guitar – very constant, but also very simple and lovely.


Using that as my “backing track”, I played live “church organ” atop the running clean guitar loop, and it was just the most joyful experience, I love the sound of this synth voice, and the melodies and solos I play just feel like exaltation to me…what church music SHOULD be – not dreary, not depressing – but full of joy – more J. S. Bach than J. Christ if you will.


Of course, using just the right reverb room was essential, I wanted a big, big space to play my imaginary church organ in, and I certainly got that!  It just makes the timbre of each note melt into that beautiful reverb, and the flying melodies, and those arpeggios, just sit so well, even the very slow, single note melodies just hang in the atmosphere – and it’s on one of those long, single notes, that the piece precisely ends.




This, to me, is a slightly flawed piano composition.  It has minor imperfections, because I was so, so out of practice at the keyboard – I did the best I could given the condition I was in. I was able at last to play a virtual grand piano, and this is a live performance – moving back and forth between minor and major motifs – the major section unintentionally recalling the title track of “Islands” by King Crimson – it’s accidentally, the same two chords used in the chorus of that piece, but used in a different context.


I worked at this for some time, re-arranging it, improving it, until it reached this form and I could not do anything else with it – it just seemed to be “done” – and that is the form you hear the track in now.


The minor part of the piece, I find to be quite heartbreaking, so it’s good that the major section is there to offset that sadness, but, that final ritard before the last, slowed to a crawl passage, is a most heartbreaking moment as the song leaves us on a mournful note rather than a cheerful one.


I wish I had done this now, when my health is better and my ability to play the keyboard is not tempered by illness, I wish I could play a 2010 version of this, but – the moment is gone, so at least, we have this version, which shows a completely different side to me compositionally – this is utterly unlike any piece in my entire canon – and yet, I do create and play pieces like this quite often, it’s just that they often never get recorded, because they are too difficult to perform well, or I just never get a version I am happy with…but I’m very glad that “This Very Day” is here now, else there would be no representation of this sort of “serious, classical” side to Dave Stafford.


This really is the same man who plays the looped, distorted, live, vari-pitch wah-wah guitar solos on “Close The Circuit” by Bindlestiff.  You wouldn’t know it if you played these two tracks back to back, that is for certain!





For me, 2005 was all about change, learning to live in my new home, settling in, but, once I was established in Scotland, I turned back and looked at the recordings I had made just prior to leaving the States, and one of them in particular, “Puddles”, really resonated with me.


First of all, it’s a nice, long loop, and I love the way that in this case, the repetitions work on your brain, it really gets “stuck in your head” more so than many loops might.  The way the melodies interweave, whilst absolutely accidental, really makes for a short musical journey through a myriad of tempos, depths of layering, and a very unique melodic and thematic interplay.  It’s a unique track, and one I felt worth a little extra promotion.


I recently ran across a promo CD of “Puddles” and was surprised to find that it contained two tracks, a 3:00 edit version, and the full 17:44 version – and then I recalled that the edit version had been created because I had been asked to go on the radio just prior to my first Scottish gig, where I performed live on the closing night of the 2006 Leith Festival.


A few hours before the gig, I went on the radio and spoke about the festival appearance, talked a little bit about looping and ambient music, and then played the edit version of “Puddles”.


So the edit version is only a curiosity, and I actually don’t know where the master file for it is, so at this point, I am only offering the full 17:44 version.  If I find the master, I would probably just add it into the zip file for the full version and provide it as a free bonus if you purchase the full version.  But…I have to find it first!


“Puddles” has the distinction of being the very last loop I ever recorded or played in the United States.  And when I was doing that, I was aware of that, that this was an ending, and you can hear it in the piece, the sadness, the “this will never come again” feeling is so strong in this loop – I wish I had a hundred more like it.


It has a lovely “doldrums moment”, where all the musical activity pretty much comes to a halt, and it’s really lovely in that it has various sections that run at differing tempos, and for an ambient loop, parts of it are extremely quick – and then it calms again, becomes slow, beautiful, quiet…then gently builds again, I absolutely love the soaring, high pitch descending ebow line that is the centrepiece of the melody – and then, it speeds up and climbs to a dizzying height – and then just hangs there, endlessly – a pause – and back to that amazing descent.


Lower pitched ebows add in additional melodic information that support and enhance the high-pitched melody.  A lovely, twirling ebow runs in the background during that pivotal high pitch melodic descent – two impossibly beautiful melodies at once, working together in an amazing, and completely accidental, way.


A fitting farewell to California and the United States, “Puddles” is the piece that is my personal transition from California to Scotland.  It will forever be tied to that time in my mind.





As the name indicates, this is literally just a different take of the improvised “church organ” piece “In Kirk”, this being the fourth take of about six takes in total.  In the end, I selected takes 1 and 4 as “best”, and included them both on the record, because I really wanted to inject some pure joy into what was shaping up to be a quite sombre, quite serious, mini-album or EP.


I am glad I included both versions, they are quite distinctly different, but most importantly, they both have a brilliant, live feel to them that does express a joy that at that time, was a hard feeling for me to feel, much less express – so it made it even more vitally important to me that I perform and then include these two tracks, if for no other reason than to re-assure myself that yes, I can still do this – I’d been playing live church organ music every chance I got, included once, upstairs in an old church in Romania, where they allowed me to play the ancient billows-powered organ in the loft – to an audience of 8 or 10 business associates, so again, it was important to me that this “side” of me, the wannabe church organist, was represented at some point in my career.


I would absolutely LOVE to do more pieces like this, and at some point, I very probably will.


For take four then, a quite different approach to the way I did the first few takes – and that’s why it’s take four that ended up here…this time, the guitar loop has been silenced, put into “Mute” mode on the Oberheim Echoplex Pro looper, where it patiently waited for me to call upon it.


This time, the organ starts, alone, and the guitar only appears later in the track, so here, I have a pure version of myself, sitting in that massive space, playing for the sheer joy of it, for that feeling of exaltation, of reverence, that just the SOUND of a church organ can bring to your mind, regardless of what you believe.


So in that reverb hush, I begin on the organ, playing the same two chords that are played on the (now silent) guitar loop, chords in the left hand, solo in the right, and when I reach a point in the song where I feel it’s “time”, just after 1:20 – I bring up the loop – and then, carry on, right hand only at first, playing a simpler melody, a really lovely melody – and then, a massive glissando/arpeggio up, two note twirls, soloing very quickly and with so much joy, as the two chord guitar loop patiently and accurately supports my melodic efforts.


A really lovely, circular, spinning, organ melody down, with the right hand, and then the left hand comes in, adding bass for a moment, and a two handed arpeggio flies past…another, faster arpeggio and then, a murmuring melodic movement down to silence as notes fade into the massive reverb room.


It should be noted that while I did “rehearse” a little bit for these, just to get a “form” in my mind, so I would know roughly how I was getting from “A” to “B” – that these pieces are both COMPLETELY, spontaneously, improvised on the spot, with no notation or any real concept of what notes, chords or arpeggios I might play – I just started playing, each time, making six takes, and then stopped.


All six takes were usable if I recall – these two were simply the most beautiful of what was an excellent and very joyful session for me, and I remember it fondly indeed.





And now…for something completely, completely different - I set the keyboard aside, and return to my first love – the energy bow guitar loop.


During 2005 and 2006, as I slowly “recovered”, I did loop, sometimes, and play live and looped electric guitar – but not really with the aim to make a record, more to just keep my hand in.  When I moved to Scotland, I had, in the short term, made myself a “stomp box” based pedalboard, which I used for live gigs and also to record with until my gear arrived from the States.


So for most of 2005 – 2008, I used this “stomp box” pedalboard, usually alone, but sometimes also in conjunction with the Oberheim looper and the Digitech TSR-24S reverb unit.


I do not know exactly when this loop was recorded, but it was a very “Fripp-soundscapey” type of loop, with a brighter guitar tone than many of my ebow loops, and I really liked the feel of it, it moves between two chords, not unlike “In Kirk” in it’s basic structure, by chance rather than design.


I ran it through a particularly lush stereo, enhanced flanger setting on my Boss BF-3 Flanger, which, for a stomp box, has some AMAZING, high tech and advanced flanging capabilities.  It sounded beautiful just through that, the flanger taking the individual ebow notes and blurring them into this amazing amorphous wave of flanged sound, that gets stuck in your brain.


As if that weren’t enough, I am pretty sure that I then ran the flanged output of the loop through a SECOND flanger in the Digitech, to thicken things up EVEN MORE – so this loop has been treated with two different stereo flangers to give it a unique level of thickness that you wouldn’t achieve using only one flanger.


When I listened back to the completed, mixed track, it became immediately, obviously clear, that this was “Breathing” – what else COULD it be, you can audibly imagine some sort of ethereal, airborne creature, making that incredibly white-noise breath sound as it inhaled and exhaled…the loop suggesting both, as it cycles back and forth between it’s two chords.


There are also dramatic changes in the level of the loop, it goes both quiet, then loud, as it moves between the two, so that suggests yet another layer of motion – for something that started life as perhaps 10 or 12 energy bow guitar lines, looped – there is an incredible sense of movement, of life, of something breathing, in this piece.


Musically, it’s a bit wistful, but mostly bright, like a blustery, sunny day – sunny with a strong, cool breeze.


I love it, and it, along with the two organ pieces, and to a lesser degree, “Puddles” – well, I think that these tracks lift up and celebrate a joyousness that I wasn’t quite sure I was really feeling.  When I look back now, and I listen to these tracks – I can see that I already at that point, was already capable of joy, and “Breathing” to me is one of the most joyful pieces I have ever created.   An absolute personal favourite, and, I love that flanger!


It carries you along in its ultra-flanged spell, and then quite suddenly, dumps you, on a last breath of pure white noise, into nothingness.







There were no Dave Stafford releases during 2004 / 2005, but in 2006, I gathered together what tracks I did have, and created “The Machinations Of Heaven” EP, and released it in 2006, as a limited edition CD.


I wanted it to be primarily a keyboard album, which it is, but I also wanted to include what guitar works I could, but in the end, that turned out to be the backing loop of “In Kirk”, and then “Puddles” and “Breathing”, so about half and half, keys/guitars, with hopefully more keyboards this time.


I do think it’s important for people to hear this record, because, similarly to the unusual tracks on the “Song With No End” EP, this record (and that one), really show a completely different side of Dave Stafford, one that you would not see, even if you owned every single album release, both solo and band, from 1992 – 2002.  


Because most all of those releases, “Song With No End” (and perhaps, “LOUD”) aside, are looping releases, mostly ambient looping, occasionally active looping – but certainly, serious piano composition or church organs, for example, would not be the musical fare you would find in my “normal catalogue” - so I am pleased that they are available here.



Please see the entry for “sinister porpoise” to read what happens next - the previous record is “puddles”.

notes from the guitarist’s seat:



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

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