014MASK, 14'11, 2023, Stereo

Armour is a concerto between solo guitar and layered guitars, organs, and effects. The alternating textures reflect the struggle to reconcile fear and danger with openness and safety. 

Armour started as a finger-picked chord sequence – long, repetitive, and watery – it was acoustic and folky but in 5/8 time.

In the mid-1980s, I worked with a friend – Karen Melady – to explore whether we could make a song out of this chord sequence. The title and lyrics explored the masks, shields, and armour that we don to protect ourselves from other people. In contrast, we need to remove those same masks, shields, and armour to gain intimacy. To learn and grow, we must risk and feel.

We never finished the song and left it behind after exploratory rehearsals. 

At various times, I recorded the chord sequence but remained bound to the original structure. Armour hibernated for several decades. 

During the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city and its airport were quiet enough that I could record acoustic guitars at home.

I rethought Armour as a series of motifs that I isolated and reassembled into fugal variations of the original chord structure. 

Thematically, Armour became a tone-poem for the pandemic years; a concerto of instruments against textured, processed layers. 

  • Solo guitars are naked and exposed. The performer is vulnerable. Exposure leads to judgement. Is the guitar in tune? How is the intonation? Are there any bum notes? Is the pacing steady? Or is he rushing? How good is the microphone placement? Is the signal-to-noise ratio of the recording chain adequate? How effective is the balance of technique with emotion? Hey, is this guy any good? 
  • The layers and electronics are comfortable masks. You don’t have to breathe in any cold, dusty, acoustic, organic air. This is the safe place, the comfortable space where you cannot judge because all is thick and hidden. No germs touch these electrons. Control is deep as I chop, stretch, process, reassemble, and glue. This is an awful lot of work, but it feels protected, walled in, and cozy. However, isolation never ends well, guaranteed. The comforting boundaries of the cocoon cool into the stark walls of a prison as the walls move steadily closer to the heart. 

Of course, all of this narrative and interpretation is mine. The great beauty of instrumental music is that no words direct your attention, and you can make your own interpretations. 

Armour is constructed in sonata form with a prelude and 3 fugues as follows: 

  • Prelude: Presents the full, 4-section chord sequence twice. First as unmasked guitar, then a swirl of organs floats like a drunken, drifting calliope. 
  • Fugue 01: Presents the first two chord sequences in fugal layers of guitars and organs. 
  • Fugue 02 Largo: Presents the first two chord sequences three times: very slowly, slowly, and at full speed.
  • Fugue 03 Finale: Presents the last two chord sequences of simple and suspended harmonies and cadences. The fugal layers of guitars shift in time to reveal poignant harmonies until the solo guitar returns unmasked. By the end, almost everything has changed though much seems the same.