Q: The process of tracking Dawn Remembers resembled filmmaking in other respects.
RS: It’s similar to what goes on in a film project, where an actor reads a script and works on their part. The musician gets the novel, the base tracks—in Maria’s case, she got my scratch vocals. They play around with their parts, develop some ideas, and then we’re in the studio, using loop recording and letting them experiment. They’ll start off with the ideas they’ve cooked up in advance, and then depending on who’s in the studio with them—sometimes I’m there, and sometimes I’m not—we’ll work on it together.
Because what we’re doing has some kinship with film, I’ve tried to learn from directors I regard highly—like Ingmar Bergman. He avoided leading actors by the nose. He tried to support them in delivering their own interpretation. That makes sense to me. I don’t have the musician’s parts figured out in advance, and I don’t have any preconceptions about what he or she should contribute. There are occasions where I’ll do a draft of a part and provide that as a starting point—but not very often. For the Too Far vocals, I had recorded scratch tracks. But we encouraged Maria to try different registers, different pitch patterns, to let her experiment both with timbre, tone and emotional interpretation.
I want to work with artists who have their own genius, and I want to give that genius full scope. So that, instead of Rich times five, you have the best contributions of other people. It’s similar to the notion of ensemble acting, the difference being that the musicians don’t get a chance to interact with each other. (Laughs.)
Q: The instrumentation of the Too Far music is sparser than that of Wild Animus.
RS: I made a conscious decision to pare things down. The moments that Dawn is remembering are intimate ones, involving the two children. I felt that the music should be light and ungrounded. We avoided percussion and too much low-end. There’s minimal bass, and if there’s any additional anchoring, it’s done by either the guitar or the organ—but even the organ is a spinet. I wanted to have a feeling of suspension, of free-floating, through the sequence of pieces.
Q: The album features some organ and guitar tracks with unusual effects.
RS: We experimented with a variety of different sounds to get the feeling we were after. In the case of the organ, I had recorded a number of the pieces some time ago—actually a long time ago, back in the 70s, on one of the first versions of Hammond’s spinet. I was living in a house on Mercer Island in the Puget Sound area. The organ just happened to be there, and I fell in love with it. I did my recording on the first cassette machine that Sony made—a little portable thing. Going into the Too Far project, I assumed that we would re-record everything with modern mics and our digital rig, but the truth is that we couldn’t get a sound that was as good. The quality of some of those old recordings captured the reediness and vulnerability we were looking for.
We processed the old tracks, and we did plenty of new recording. So it ended up being kind of a mix. The organ was where we did most of the funky things, but there’s one guitar part, too, that dates back quite a few years, where we liked its antique quality. There’s something about listening to an old recording that takes you back in time, and these are all memories.
Q: The paintings of Visionary artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein figure prominently in the liner notes and on the cover of the album.
RS: EVB’s artwork played a meaningful role, in quite a few ways. I used them to stimulate my imagination. I’m inspired by his art. Most of the pieces we chose date from the period 1955-56, which was early in his painting career. As you get later into his work, you see more sophisticated conceptions, and his technique gets more elaborate. But in this early period, the paintings have a freshness and youthfulness—there’s some of the child in them. They’re bursting and exuberant in a way that seemed to match the tone of the story.
Early in the process, before I finished the novel, I picked out a number of paintings. I was looking at them and imagining one or another associated with this or that scene. So they were very much part of the evolution of the project. We ended up tying particular paintings to particular scenes and tracks, which shows in the CD liner notes and in the tablet version of Too Far.
We decided to let the musicians see the paintings on a big screen monitor while they were tracking. So EVB inspired them as well. The musicians enjoyed it, and it was something different to try.
Q: Some other artists influenced you in your creation of the Too Far music.
RS: There’s an old Segovia recording of musical interpretations of the vignettes from Platero and I by Juan Ramon Jimenez. They were composed by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In one vignette, "Angelus," Juan Ramon imagines all of these roses falling from heaven as the Moguer church bells are ringing. It’s an amazing moment, and I thought the musical interpretation was a great visualization of it.
The tone of Platero and I has some familial relationship to the Too Far music in terms of its moments of sorrow and nostalgia, and Juan Ramon always had one foot in the child’s world. His writing certainly had an impact on me, and I remember listening to that Segovia recording and thinking, yeah, something along that line would be wonderful for this.