"It’s the musical highlight of the season, at least for me. Those deep notes and ambiences make me want to just sit in a room and listen, doing nothing else.” Tom M.
A new CD release from Don Latarski 2019
Heart Dance Records release 19033
Released on October 18th, 2019.
The Frozen Moments project was inspired by the discovery that I could create new sounds from instruments played by the wind and water and by a new baritone guitar.
I’ve been inventing string instruments based on the guitar but played by either water rushing over the strings or by the wind whistling through them. I first started experimenting with these new sounds on my RIVER cd. Since then I’ve built two new instruments excited by water. The sounds made by these instruments is all over the Frozen Moments project. The sound is meditative, introspective and feral.
Playing a guitar that is tuned much lower than a standard guitar requires a very different approach to playing and composing. When I pick up a guitar for the first time she tells me what to do. And she told me to play slowly and to seek out melody; to savor the moment and not be afraid to linger in the moment. Low pitches need to breathe; they need more musical space.
River Speak 1 and 2 feature the water guitar sounds. I wanted to write some music that would be like a conversation between the river and myself.
There is a soothing and meditative quality about these sounds, but also a lot of dynamic and tonal variation - very organic.
I played a really low tuned baritone on a recent trip to Germany. That experience triggered emotions I didn’t know I had. It was like someone unlocked a secret door into my soul and I knew then that I had to have one. Composing and performing on a baritone requires a different approach. Strumming doesn’t work and many of the traditional chord forms just sound too muddy. The instrument lets you know right away what is going to work and what isn’t.
Nearly everything on this project is singable, even the improvisational sections. I’m a sucker for melody. It’s a gift that you can take home and live with and that is what I look for in music. What does it make you feel and what sticks with you?
The collection of music on Frozen Moments was inspired by a new baritone guitar I had commissioned from a German luthier, Max Spohn. While visiting him in the spring of 2018 I had a chance to play a baritone (tuned a perfect 5th lower than a conventional guitar) and I was shocked at the floodgate of emotion that this instrument released in me. This guitar unlocked some rooms in my soul I didn’t know I had.
There is something about low notes that suggests a deep sense of calm, majesty, truthfulness, and grandeur, like an Ansel Adams landscape. You can bask in the richness and all is well with the world. Low notes need more space and have to breathe more than high notes. I found myself overwhelmed by the richness and depth of sound, which suggested songs that are on the slower side.
The other instrument that is used extensively on Frozen Moments is another baritone guitar. It differs from the other in that it isn’t tuned down as low; a major 3rd lower than a normal guitar. With this instrument I was able to play denser passages as heard in cut #2 Shadow Crossing.
All instruments have limitations from a compositional perspective and that’s a good thing. During the writing process I found that many of my “normal” guitar chords didn’t actually work on the Spohn baritone. Why? Well, playing low notes close together produces musical mush. The clarity is gone and with it the emotion of the sound; like over cooking cauliflower. Give those low notes some room to move and add one or two higher notes and you’ve got a perfect musical landscape to explore.
Over the past couple of years (2018-19) I’ve been creating guitar-like instruments that can be partially immersed in a fast flowing stream or held aloft and “strummed” by the wind. The water courses over the strings and causes them to vibrate. The sounds produced are sometimes eerie and haunting and at other times extremely languorous and peaceful. It has been incredibly refreshing and inspirational to work with these sustainably harvested new sounds. I’m stimulated and challenged to find new ways to use the sounds and given the ability to modify them if needed in the computer further multiplies the options. Another benefit is that I get out into the treasure trove of wild waters we have here in Oregon.
The motivation for creating these instruments lies in my desire to have the water and wind speak to me other than through the normal sound of water-over-rocks and wind-in-the-trees. I needed some translators. Since I’m a guitar player my first thought was to modify a guitar to be able to translate the sound of wind and water. (Like the carpenter who sees the world through a hammer, I see it with a string.) I’m not opposed to hitting the things as well. I build them in my basement worksop which is outfitted pretty well from a primitive mechanics perspective. As the saying goes, I know enough to be dangerous.
Sometimes I bow the instruments with a modified section of bicycle inner tube. This produces a more conventional cello-like sound and is great for creating a warped string quartet type of sound.
The water guitar sounds are featured on River Speak pt.1 & 2 as well as on The Dawning Moment. With the two River Speak pieces I was really thinking of how I could compose in a way that would create a kind of conversation with the river, leaving lots of space for the rivers sounds to evolve. Most people will think these “pads” were created by a synthesizer, but there are no synthesizers on any of these songs. The sounds created by the water coursing over the strings have a wonderful organic sense: dynamic in volume, pitch, and overtone content.
Triggering the strings with wind produces an entirely different sound. Overtones abound, which creates a much brighter sound than those created by water. The hydraulic stimulus tends to dampen the overtones and softer sounds result. The wind guitar was featured prominently on cut #8 The Falls from my River cd (Heart Dance Records 2018).
1- The Dawning Moment (6:44) (Spohn baritone)
This is a song I composed years ago that sounded so great on low guitar that I had to include it. Slow and melodic, it is an Americana piece that conjures up images of wide open spaces.
2- Shadow Crossing 5:42 (Goodall baritone)
This is the funky one. I had the opening riff in my ear and fingers for a few years and when I played it on the low C guitar it just suggested so many other ideas. The improvisation was done on a classical guitar given to me by Mason Williams. I pulled the frets out and turned it into a fretless instrument.
3- River Speak pt. 1 9:42 (Spohn baritone)
This piece features the other worldly sounds made on one of my water guitars. As of now, there are two different ones. These are guitar-like instruments that produce sound by immersing the strings in a fast flowing stream or river. The point of this piece is to have a dialogue between a traditional guitar and the haunting sustaining sounds from the river.
4- Sarabande Migration (5:45) (Spohn baritone)
This piece is based on the popular Sarabande from Partita #1 in B minor BWV 1002 by Bach. Over time I’ve evolved it to reflect a more open sense of harmony. The improvisation in this piece is based on an 8 bar chord progression found within the tune. In addition to the solo section I’ve written an intro and coda.
5- Bimble 7:51 (Goodall baritone)
The word bimble means to walk or travel at a leisurely pace. Since I do a lot of bimbling it seemed a fitting title for this new piece. Once again, the piece evolves in numerous ways with stops along the way to further explore the harmony and to improvise.
6- Mima 5:58 (Goodall baritone)
This waltz reminds me a little of Gymnopédie No.1 (Erik Satie). It is intimate and contemplative . The improvisation is in 4/4 time, but the waltz returns.
7- Xienna 7:47 (Spohn baritone)
This is the most adventurous song on this cd. It is highly rhythmic and syncopated and is infused with multiple rhythmic layers. There are odd meter sections sprinkled in and a very strong melody that binds the different sections together.
8- On Winter 6:56 (Spohn baritone)
Originally written in 2000, this strongly melodic piece was composed after my mother passed away. She, more than anyone else, was my biggest fan and supporter. This arrangement is quite different than the original and had to be transposed to find the sweet spot on the Spohn baritone guitar.
9- River Speak pt. 2 6:53 (fretless classical guitar)
This dialogue features the sounds I captured from my water guitar #2 in many different streams and rivers in Oregon and the Big Sur River in California. The real soloist on this piece is the river.
Don Latarski bio
Guitarist and composer Don Latarski is an American institution. His seasoned bandmates declare that nobody plays like him and with a reputation in Finger Style guitar circles cemented in the image of his guitar picks glued onto his fingernails—they are on to something.
Born in the 1950’s, Latarski grew up outside of Detroit, MI, close enough to that Motown vibe to trade Little League games for guitar lessons at age 10. He relocated to Oregon to attend the University of Oregon, where he earned a music degree. He studied jazz and classical guitar in college, which proved to be a natural introduction to finger picking. U of O quickly hired him to head their guitar studies program and his life since has revolved around music and teaching.
Latarski’s contribution to guitar playing cannot be understated—he has written more than 20 books on guitar instruction, and owns Crescent Studios in Eugene, where he is the audio engineer and producer. In addition to his dedication in teaching, Don has released 14 studio albums, and composed and recorded music for video games, short films, and radio programs. His quirky personality is best captured in his numerous video tutorials posted on YouTube and his Facebook page, including a recent outing, titled Mt. Hopkins Road Wind Guitar—complete with disclaimer not to try this at home.
Don’s uncanny eye for color, composition, and the under appreciated beauties of daily life are apparent in his many pursuits—hiking, photography, motorcycles, kayaking, and riverbeds. His latest release, River (featuring The River Suite), is a gift from many of his recent travels through the American Southwest, the West Coast, and the Pacific Northwest and he captures much of the moods and sites that inspired his tunes in his travelogues on his website, GuitarOutside.com, and in Facebook posts written in a rhythm that would have been at home with the Beat Poets of the 1960s. He combines his enthusiasm for guitar with his adoration for nature, all while teaching prospective players about the instrument he’s spent his life crafting a relationship with, and leaves an indelible impression on his audiences.
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