Category Archives: original music - Page 3

improv and process

I’m preparing a new collection of tunes. It will be release on the first of November. Six tracks. All electronic and strange or solo electric guitar (and still strange). It’s primarily more improvisations and accidents. The nature of how the collection started and why I decided to continue working on it lends itself to a minor (or major) revision of my creative process and how I think about it. Hang tight. This could get thick.

One of the things that I loved about working on large scale works for an ensemble was the planning. There is so much detail that needs tending. Dynamics, articulations, accurate notation. All of the subtleties of orchestration in the service of the thematic material. These things can consume the mind and make it impossible to ever finish a work. I knew people who would revise and revise until it was just so and then start revising again after the very first performance of the work. It’s a tempting place to take up residence, this den of detail. I was on the edge of falling into it when I started working with the NYU New Music Ensemble way back when.

I saw what they did with improvisations over my electronic works. I never wrote anything down but instead communicated what I wanted to hear in the electronic sounds. Every time we did the piece it was different. But there were certain characteristics that never changed. The tone, the tempo, the textures had variations and would have been different had they been transcribed but the listener left with the same impression each time.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal but to me in that time and at that place in my education, it was like a bright shaft of light coming down from an otherwise dark sky. I started working with improvisation in mind from that day on. I stepped away from the paper and pen and most of my work today is improvised. That’s where this collection comes in.


A while back I got a new amp and a loop station. They’re cool and I’m having a lot of fun with them. On my first night with the loop station, I plugged it into my computer and started recording. Good things happened. I was still getting the hang of using it and what I could do with it. Let’s just say that I have no interest in the novelty act deal where you lay down a rhythm track and then cover it with an accompaniment and finally a lead line. That’s a powerful technique and is fun to watch, but I don’t feel like I’m going to create anything cool that way. What I want is the same thing I’ve always wanted: an insanely long delay line that loops back around at an unpredictable moment and forces everything out of balance and then back together again. And let’s just say that’s easier to buy in hardware than to program up in Pure Data.

I did several nights of improvising and found that I had something neat (let this be a lesson, kiddies: record EVERY SESSION!). Then I dove into my notebooks that I keep scribbling in and found some interesting concepts. I applied them. Good things happened. Now I have six pieces that came out of nothing and go together nicely.

What I have learned is that I really prefer working this way. Writing things down in notebooks and enormous, elaborate scores is a lot of fun but that’s fundamentally contrary to how I work. The hardest thing to do is to let go of training and do what comes naturally. Once we learn rules, we want to hold onto them. We want to believe that they are The Way. But we know the way the first time we set out to do something that matters. It’s not perfectly clear but it usually feels right. Obeying that internal directive can be a challenge to the traditions that we have invested so much effort but there’s no arguing with results.

new tunes: Thought Music

There is nothing more reassuring than having a plan. Stepping into a studio space is a daunting task. The possibilities are limitless but time is not. Anything can be done, but only a few things will be. That’s why little notebooks are so amazing. They hold ideas and possibilities. I keep a pile of them. I re-read them weekly. I look for plans and see how solid they feel after some time has passed. It’s also good to see how much progress I’ve made. But the best thing about a plan as it relates to artistic endeavors is that they all go out the window when something cool happens. So my belief is that the plan exists to get me into the studio so that cool things can happen – whether or not they agree with any stated objective.

At the beginning of the year I said that I wanted to release three collections of tunes in a combination of solo and collaborative efforts. In the middle of some very heavy work in February, it occurred to me that smaller collections with a wider variety might be cooler than the traditional album format. Something not quite an EP was attractive. With a pile of work in place, it is easy to see where some things might fit and where there are still gaps. As I was noodling with something to use as mortar for a collection, I had a pretty good improvisation session. By the end of that night, I had three tunes that stood very well on their own. The next night, I took some other things and did one of my exercises where I make a piece of music in a sitting. But I did two. By a wonderful twist, the five pieces worked together in a series. The collection sort of completed itself. Not at all what I had intended and yet exactly what I wanted. Nifty!

These are improvisations composed and recorded over two nights. There is no editing of material and very little processing for tracks that are solo guitar. The tracks are arranged in a particular order and it would be great if folks would play them in order just once. I’m old fashioned like that, but not enough so to make them all one long mp3 and force the issue. It’s also the first time I’m exposing the world to what that guitar I built sounds like. This is it.

Please download, enjoy, and share Thought Music. Thanks!

Thought Music

Thought Music – J.C. Wilson

1. A Kind of Theme
2. Interlude
3. First Variation
4. Transom
5. Another Variation

The entire collection in one pile:

All songs written, performed, engineered, and produced by J.C. Wilson. All instruments built by J.C. Wilson!

Creative Commons License
Thought Music by J.C. Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

interlude video

This is the video I mentioned in the last post. Something about the way that this video lined up with the track I produced the other night was eerie. I really, really like the tension. I’m not a filmmaker, but a little technology and 15 minutes can produce something compelling (I think). It really does look better at fullscreen, but the three or four people who might want to see it can ask for it in full size if they’d like. Here’s to more happy accidents.

accidental goodness

Wednesday night I went into the studio, sat down, and started recording. The best part of having a studio in my house is the ability to keep things set just so and when I’m ready to work, get right down to the working of the mojo. I had my guitar in a silly tuning and I don’t remember why. It’s not important to the rest of the world, but to my fingers it was just right. I started playing and before I knew it I had three tracks that weren’t bad. In fact, they were pretty good. I don’t think that I would have been embarrassed to have been in front of a group of people while I was playing that stuff despite the fact that I’d never heard it before, much less played it.

As is my custom, I took my lunch hour at the ye olde coffee shoppe to evaluate what I did the night before. I was still quite pleased. I added some EQ and a touch of reverb so that it wouldn’t sound like it was recorded in a spare bedroom and bounced it down. Last night, I tossed it on the iPod and got a good listen on the drive in this morning. Still not bad! It’s fairly rare that I’m still pleased with an improvisation so far after the fact. Better yet, it suggests a them and variations if only due to the tuning of the instrument and proximity of performance.

On the same playlist, by chance rather than design, were the pieces I’ve been working on that are processed alterations of some improvisations. They are a delicate counterpoint to the variations. Something tells me that this is a chocolate and peanut butter moment. It has me very excited by the possibilities.

Since I’m likely to tailor and tweak the variations, I think I’ll clean up the few booms that are in the recording and release the three of them more or less raw because it’s been forever since I put anything out for folks to hear and that makes me crazy. Watch this space for tunage in the near future. Maybe a special Friday release.

new music: Not My Name

This mix is a little rougher than I’d like but I know I’m going to add vocals to this one and I need to work out the lyrics before I decide on the final structure of the tune. I like the textures even if they are a bit on the heavy side. So yeah, it’s a rough cut. I’ll smooth it out later. This blog is all about work in progress so I guess making excuses is kind of silly.

Cool new stuff will be coming to the site shortly. In the mean time, enjoy this cut.

Not My Name

Creative Commons License
Not My Name by J.C. Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at