RPM Challenge 2015

Wow. I need to post more often.  Anyway, as you know, I've been working on a number of projects including a CD of rocked out Celtic traditionals and a new album of original material (a couple tracks which you might have heard at the final Featherscale shows).  There's also the album of punk tunes and the still super-secret Black Ship Theatre project.

But that all got put on hold when I realized what a special year this is: The tenth anniversary of the RPM Challenge.  Much like National Novel Writing Month, or NANOWRIMO, it is not a contest, but a spur to get off the couch and create something.  Nine years ago, for the first RPM Challenge, I recorded Imbolc and Ice, which includes songs like Original Pagan and At the Standing Stones that I still perform live today.  That first year, I finished the challenge along with 265 others.  The next year, it went global and produced over 2000 albums from all seven continents.  I skipped a few years, and recorded another album for 2009- Topaz Stars in a Violet Sky, which led to the Featherscale and everything that era entailed.

Being the big 10th, I wanted to do something special, and I really hope you'll enjoy it.

In 1806, the composer Christian Schubert wrote Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (Ideas for a Aesthetics of Music).  In it, he described the particular feel and emotion of each of the 12 musical keys, and what sort of song they were suited to.  I realized that Schubert's characteristics of the musical keys, when arranged in the circle of fifths, matched very well to the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Then I worked in the tarot associations for each sign, a bunch of alchemical and magickal stuff, a bit of sacred geometry, and created a diagram of the magickal year similar to the one you see on the side there (which is by some of my favorite craftspeople at Cast a Stone). Finally, I simply wrote pi to 11 decimal places around the perimeter and marked off the three stages of life, death, and rebirth.

This gave me the map for the album: 12 songs each with a predetermined key, tempo, theme, arrangement, and instrumentation, corresponding to the natural cycle of the Earth and sky.

SO: The "wet" portions of the year, winter and spring, are electric, and blend into the acoustic "dry" portions of summer and fall; Yule is a slow 60bpm, speeding up to a 240bpm summer solstice before slowing down again on it's way back; I'm using different instruments to represent the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water; The beginning and end of each song is dictated by whether that zodiac sign is cardinal, fixed, or mutable; Song structure is determined by the corresponding digit of pi, so the second song has one chord progression all the way through, while the 6th has 9 major changes.  Lyrics are based on the particular zodiac sign for that spot, it's associated tarot trump, the closest agrarian holiday, or something related- as they inspire me.

This gave me a chance to do things I've never done on an album before: Orchestral brass.  String quartets.  Electronica.   And while every song has the slight pop/rock vibe you know me for, the album ranges in tone from punk to brass band to electronic trance to country. Craziest of all, it somehow works together to remain truthful to my original map.

At this point, with 18 of 28 days elapsed, I've written 10 of the 12 and finished recording 8.  While I'm confident the recording will be done in time to submit, it will still take a large chunk of March to properly mix, master, and polish.  With any luck, I will have a few copies available at the Magickal Marketplace & Psychic Faire on March 28.

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