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Dark Sunny Land Reflections

Yes, the music of Dark Sunny Land occupies mostly a peculiar heat haze hinterland, a semi-permanent perch that always appears to threaten a massive increase in volume, but never does. – Julian Cope

It takes some patience to dig into Painter’s work. His drones tend toward the appropriately static side of things, shifting quite minimally, gaining strength through slow-motion repetition. But there’s a rich depth of sound at play and a very strong emotional thread coursing through it. Mind you, that emotion can border on unpleasant at times, or at least uncomfortable, but it’s worth working through. – Hypnagogue

Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Steve Painter, aka Dark Sunny Land / Kon Tan Kor, guitarist/improviser based in Providence, RI.

Reflections, DSL’s latest, is an addition to a catalog of records that Steve put out via Gulcher Records, One Hand Records and Skatchimawakee Records. Read what Soulscorch had to say about the album.


Two of my passions are painting and making music. They seem to feed off each other when I’m actively doing both. This current musical project was started in March 2020 and was wrapped up in June. During that period I was painting some abstract and moody landscapes. I picked one painting for the cover of the album and “Reflections” seemed like a good title for both the album cover and the music.

And maybe I was remembering the old Supremes song, with the line:

Reflections of the life that used to be


Process

I rarely start a musical composition (or painting) with any fixed idea of where it will end up, or what instruments will be used. Risk and chance play a part in the choices that are made. I like to make choices quickly before over-thinking creeps in. I try to find ways to get expressive sounds which aren’t necessarily associated with the instrument I’m using by using effects creatively, or by “extended” procedures (e.g. plucking guitar strings below the bridge, or by attaching alligator strings to the strings.) And reverb is everywhere.

Each of the six compositions on “Reflections” consist of 3-6 individual tracks, laid down separately in no particular order and recorded onto an old Tascam 8 track digital recorder. No computer interfacing until the mastering process. I start out by improvising until I hear something I like. That becomes the starting point to create additional tracks, each one improvised off of the track(s) that came before. The key to a successful composition is how well those tracks work together when mixed.


The Compositions

The Muse

Reliable muses were scarce at the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, my old black cat BK was found to be sick with serious heart issues. Happily, with loving care and good medicine he started to come around, and darned if he isn’t his old self these days. He’s been a spirited fighter and I’m going to say he was the muse that continually inspired the creation of this album.

This composition opens with a gong, which repeats several times throughout the song. Added percussion comes from hitting the side of the gong with the wooden part of the mallet. A soft flowing opening of “wah” sound created using guitar, Ebo and the Crybaby pedal. As the piece develops, a middle-eastern sound is introduced, created using the very versatile Electro Harmonix Memory Man with Hazarai. A rain stick falls in. Toward the end there’s a short, repeated figure created by the Korg Microsynth.


The Reflecting Pool

After this composition was created, I sat listening and was able to imagine a meditative scene, someone sitting in a quiet peaceful garden, beside a natural reflecting pool – gazing at an inverted world.

This composition consists of three tracks: acoustic guitar, recorder, and a music box recording. I took the music box recording, put it through a reverse pedal so that the result sounded more like Javanese gamelan and a lot less like the music box source. Then I played a simple acoustic guitar phrase over it on a second track, and on the third played a simple melody on the recorder, with some healthy delay.


The Lamp and the Mirror

The title was just a couple of symbolic images that I thought might resonate with the music.

I decided to first create a “forest of chimes”, filling three tracks with sounds of bar chimes, triangles, gong and a Swiss brass bell. With those sounds as a backdrop, I improvised tremelo-effect electric guitar on a fourth track.

The fifth track of the composition consisted of simple melodies on recorder that come and go throughout the composition. The mixing focused on bringing the percussion tracks in and out. Shimmer and chime are the sound I am often after.


Night Flight

I must have been having a bad night when I recorded parts of this one. When I listened back as I was finishing it, I recalled a flight back to the states after spending a few nice weeks in Paris and Laussane Switzerland. It seemed like everybody on the plane had fallen asleep except for me. It was an eerie feeling. I was dreading the return and having to go back to work. Poor me! I think I captured that feeling in this composition.

I don’t have a good memory of putting this together, so some quesswork is being done here: I hear some extended guitar technique — striking below the bridge and tremelo bar shaking with a delay effect. The periodic rising sound you might hear came from guitar through Electro Harmonics Memory Man. There’s probably some Korg microsynth in there as well.


Handful of Shadows

Another title that came to me during playback, probably during cocktail hour.

The first notes are guitar plucked with some overtones thrown in – this guitar was recorded at half speed and looped. Background is some microsynth. The recorder comes in and out with lots of delay on it. Some chiming and synth are sprinkled in as the compositions proceeds. Toward the end there is a gradual volume increase from the microsynth track to heighten tension.


The Flower in the Dream

The title is an image that has some positive aspects to me. It seemed to fit the composition and end the album on a positive way that I think is also ambiguous, maybe wistful? To me anyway.

This composition opens with microsynth, quickly some extended guitar technique (brushing strings with the hands with heaps of delay, and plucking below the bridge). Again, the recorder melodies are in and out. The recorder occasionally states a theme that is actually a private joke. I’d be interested if anyone picks up on it.


Closing thoughts

I was satisfied with the way this record turned out. COVID and the ensuing feelings of isolation, loneliness, uncertainty and loss are in the digital grooves. Providence RI was like a ghost town for months, and it is just starting to reopen now, as we move into autumn. Still, the world’s a mess. Making art seems like a proper response to bear witness to these times.

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