Dave Stafford, September 2010: With “The Machinations Of Heaven” now behind me, I
wanted to make a start at moving back towards the world of rock, in particular, the
world of progressive rock, one which I loved but had never really been a part of.
Year before, briefly, I was the lead guitarist/lead singer(!)/synthesist in a PROPER
Prog Rock group. But, in typical “band” fashion, we rehearsed for three of four
months, worked up a few pieces of really good music – and then broke up without ever
playing a gig !
The rehearsal tapes are fascinating, but, it was not to be, so my dreams of being
in a progressive rock band were effectively shelved until the time of “Sinister Porpoise”.
This track then, is really a bridge, from the past to the present, it gives a nod
to a lot of musical forms, and it also says “I am no longer exclusively about looping
or ambient music” – a statement that up until 2006 or so, I would not have consciously
It’s almost as if this track was the rehearsal for my current work, “Gone Native”,
which will be my first ever full fledged progressive rock album – well, theoretically
second if you count “all things being equal” as being a prog rock record – but I
discount it because it was broad sided by illness and that really wasn’t fair.
Now, in 2010, since 2008 really, I’ve been writing and recording progressive rock
music properly, for the first time ever, playing all the instruments myself, but,
mainly, because at last, starting in 2008 - 2009, I actually have the proper tools
that ALLOW me to do so! Or else I would have long ago.
So this is the first of my “prog rock” tracks proper, a prelude, an early prelude,
to “Gone Native”. Strange but true, this could literally be the first track of “Gone
Native” but because it’s now 4 years old (as I write in September 2010) I will consider
it as a standalone and a unique effort, and will, and do, consider “Gone Native”
to be a very separate and different musical experience.
What I had then, in 2006, was SONAR 4, my trusted software friend since 2003, the
software that had allowed me to make both “all things being equal” and “The Machinations
Of Heaven” – but now, I turned it to a different purpose – could I make a REALLY
progressive piece of music using it, playing almost all the instruments myself?
This is the last, final example of a piece of music using a live drummer, and once
again, drummer extraordinaire Mike Bowman steps up and provides a brilliant drum
track that is the basis for my first real prog mini-epic.
So, starting with an empty drum track, I just built this up, using multi-tracking
in an extreme way, bit by bit. It’s built in sections, so I at least tried to rough
out each section, adding some or even all the instruments before moving to the next
The bass part is the one thing that (sort of) is a constant – it moves through the
whole piece, my old faithful Washburn bass, providing continuity and a solid backing,
along with Mike’s awesome drum part, to the soloists and jams that occur on top.
The piece starts out with a couple of sections that I could almost play a game of
“name your prog influence” with, they are so painfully obvious, but to save you the
trouble, I will try to identify them for you – first, after a drum and bell salute
– that perhaps recalls Mike Oldfield if anything! - we have a very “Van Der Graaf
Generator circa 1975” approach to the opening section – a popping Hammond organ,
with organ bass (no real bass yet) begins the piece, just organ and drums, that’s
totally inspired by Van Der Graaf, it could be something straight off of “Godbluff”
or perhaps “World Record”. That runs from 0:08 to about 0:41, pure Hugh Banton-inspired
Then, running from approximately from 0:41 to 1:21, suddenly, it’s Todd Rundgren’s
Utopia, this time, Utopia, where Todd Rundgren and Roger Powell, from the late 70s
on through the 80s, perfected the art of the lead synth/lead guitar trade-off/solo/battle.
This is CLASSIC Utopia, first “Roger Powell”, stereo left, from 0:42 – 0:51, on
distorted, bending, almost guitar-like synthesizer, followed, and carefully overlapped
with, from 0:51 – 1:11, “Todd Rundgren”, stereo right, on crazed lead guitar, albeit
with a bit of a dissonant Robert Fripp tail end of solo, and then, at 1:11, “Roger
Powell”, stereo left, returns for another brief synth solo/romp – four seconds later,
at 1:15 “Todd Rundgren”, stereo right, returns to definitively end the brief synth
v. guitar battle.
Then, a brief interlude, while, from 1:20 to 1:46, Mike plays a brilliant percussive
piece, and a gentle bass solo comes along, strangely, briefly quoting “God Rest Ye
Merry Gentlemen” – and then staggering down to a very, very wicked note at 1:47 –
bringing in the “Adrian Belew influenced by Robert Fripp” section of the piece.
A heavily flanged Stratocaster comes flying in, playing a long, dissonant pattern,
which then dissolved into Belew-style whammy madness, a crazy ascending, distorted
riff ending up in what is perhaps the only recorded example of Dave Stafford playing
two-handed, “tapping” heavy metal style lead guitar – a tapping section that is actually
both tapping and high speed wah-wah pedal a la “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” – so
Hendrix also gets his due there - for a few seconds, between 2:47 and 2:53, before
the “Adrian Belew” section suddenly mutates into…a (sort of) synth solo that runs
from 2:54 to 3:04, at which point, we get a jazzy, perhaps Robert Fripp inspired
solo, very brief, which then of course turns into live reverse guitar, which could
be attributed equally to either Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew, who both play a lot
of live reverse guitar in the performance and recording contexts of King Crimson.
That section then, from 3:04 – 3:41, ending in another flurry of clean jazz guitar,
and a lovely, clean, whammy note – could be the “Fripp/Belew/Fripp/Belew” section
of the piece, which brings us, full circle, with a beautiful Yamaha DX7S “FMilters”
patch chord, growing up so slowly, FM being frequency modulation, the chord grows
and grows, and then tails off with a downward pitch wheel bend - and then to the
end of our prog rock journey.
A remarkable, high-pitched bass part is the last thing we hear along with a return
of the bell.
I’ve found that for some reason, on more than one piece now, that having a very high
pitched bass part as the very last thing you hear, gives the piece a lovely sense
of conclusion. I do NOT know why that is, but it’s worked now this way on several
pieces since then.
That very short bass part, and the idea of a very melodic, high register bass part
– well, in some ways, that goes all the way back to Chris Squire of Yes and Greg
Lake of King Crimson and ELP, but in this case, I was actually thinking of Tony Levin,
King Crimson’s main bassist in the 80s and sometimes-bassist in the 90s.
Tony uses high register bass melodies to great effect on some of the classic 90s
Crimson pieces from the “Thrak” and “Vrooom” albums. So that is most likely the
influence here, that caused me to take the time to work out this very concise, high-register
bass guitar ending.
So in the somewhat short span of 4:23, I manage to fit in Mike Oldfield on tubular
bells, Van Der Graaf Generator featuring Hugh Banton, Utopia featuring Todd Rundgren
and Roger Powell, and King Crimson featuring Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, and Tony
Levin on bass.
And six seconds of “Electric Ladyland”-era Jimi Hendrix speed wah-wah guitar too.
I’ve never, before or since, made a piece with such blatant influences blaring out,
but it’s all done with the utmost of respect and reverence for those that I am imitating
– imitation, of course, being the “sincerest form of flattery”. I am happy that
I made this piece, and I very much enjoy hearing it now.
Structurally, it’s impossible to say what other influences are there, the piece contains
other bits and pieces, mostly synthesizers that may or may not be noticeable beneath
the very in-your-face solos that dominate the piece – but regardless, even though
it’s fraught with very obvious, heart-on-my-sleeve musical influences – I still feel
that, terrible title pun aside, that “Sinister Porpoise” is an excellent and interesting
track, a musical experiment that has lead me, over a period of research and development,
and dramatic changes to the instruments and tools available to me, to a world where
I can now construct an entire album of music that is even better than this track.
Which is what I am working on now, in late 2010, as I write.