Descending to lower Belen, the crowded market awakens our senses. Merchants sell roasted worms, chicken feet and pure tobacco. Vultures line the narrow passageways at ground level. This is the hardest part of Iquitos, an Amazon gateway city in Peru. … Continue reading →
In 1996 my parents, responding with vigor to low-level delinquency on my part, sent me to an alternative disciplinary school in the back woods of Maine. For two years I lived in a small house with sixty other young people, … Continue reading →
The Argentina World Cup match is on in Café Haiti, a gathering spot by Miraflores Park in Lima, Peru. Painters line up their works for sale on the sidewalk. Hundreds of teens occupy the street in some skateboarding analogue to … Continue reading →
It is spring in Geneva in green and lavender bloom. Martin Khor tells us that the problem we have traveled here to address is among the most serious of our time. Martin directs the South Centre, supported by and advising … Continue reading →
No one quite smiles in Basel. Not on the tram and not in the café. Each of ten men sits at his separate table on a Sunday, reading the paper quietly. Our access to medicines team doesn’t quite fit. We’re … Continue reading →
December 2013 — A few days into our conferences, we attend the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Cape Town stadium. There’s a sense that the formal and relatively conservative Johannesburg ceremony seen on world television may not have been … Continue reading →
It’s a perfect Cape Town dawn, my first. Table Mountain looms large from the waterfront. I’m staring through plate glass windows and a well-kept garden of succulents. Morning’s long light is gentle on everything. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet … Continue reading →
Hoan Kiem lake is aglow with circling motorbikes and ancient illuminated temples. Ha Noi, this city in a river, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Relentless traffic seems unnerving until I learn to apply a certain Zen. Be one … Continue reading →
I am in Doha, Qatar tonight on a long layover between Washington and Hanoi. Qatar is a small Middle Eastern country with wealthy citizens, many migrant workers and a large expat community. At the recommendation of friends, I pass by the Museum of Islamic Art, an exceptionally beautiful white structure by the architect I.M. Pei. It makes art from tradition, and sits across the water from Doha’s flamboyant downtown skyscrapers. Then I move along to Souq Waqif, an old market rebuilt with new money.
I think for a moment about opulence living with conservative Islam. Many, perhaps most people are dressed to cover their wrists and ankles, and in many cases their faces as well. Yet the fashion industry in its vulgarity is on full display in advertisements and on television sets, and conspicuous consumption seems to have the elevated position typical to wealthy urban neighborhoods. Or maybe that is for the tourists.
I stop in a Syrian restaurant for dinner and a musical performance. A man dances, whirling bright and lit cloths, with fans and a skirt that would be considered feminine in the west, yet with powerfully masculine movements. I drink tisane, a hot tea.
I am traveling alone, as I most commonly have. I am not lonely. I wonder if I have outgrown it; the years advanced such that I feel my life and friends with me even when they are distant or past.
A clay pot dish of burghul and hot tomatoes arrives at my table, and the musicians begin.
RecordingA Ring Around the Atlantic (2011-12) offered a chance to create richer arrangements than I had previously, and experiment with layers of music. Peter Gabriel records, with their cathedral of sounds, were one reference point in our studio discussions.
Cellist Gordon Withers pointed out that Atlantic seems to sit in a world between popular and classical music. Take track six. Messages Across the Atlantic begins with a sparse piano line and vocal, then adds string instruments, drums and choral vocals in an uncommon blend of styles. We made a conscious decision to exclude electric guitars.
Messages gives way to Very Very Suffer, a field recording of me playing a nylon string guitar on a rooftop in Guatemala City, with the attendant sounds of birds and a plane passing overhead. This is matched to a second recording of a friend, Abu Kamara, speaking about his life in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The chords transition into The Hard Path to Peace, which features a jazz rhythm section made modern pop through electronic manipulations.
Atlantic is meant to be heard as an album, straight through; even with an A and B side (the latter beginning with “Conjured Lights”). There is an industry trend toward making songs as loud as the technology will allow, even for songs or moments within songs you might otherwise think of as naturally quiet. Atlantic is mastered with quieter points. This technique gives songs room to develop and lets our ears rest; to enjoy silence before a dynamic build.
I’m back trying out new musical directions again now, toward a future fourth album tentatively called Trans-Pacifica.