Now playing: Medley of music from "Niagara"
Thanks to Margaret Sharrow for the background image paintings, "Blue Forms 2" and "Blue Forms 3".
Thanks also to Michael Mecca for letting me use his fretless bass for "Erie" and "River".
In May of last year, my wife and I made a weekend trip to Niagara Falls, NY. Even though I had been there a number of times before, this particular time I had a musical vacuum inside me waiting to be filled. Walking around Goat Island, I could feel the vibrations from all around me. They had a persistent, repetitive (but not too repetitive) quality that I could almost hum along with. Around every corner was a new tune, music waiting to be listened to. I imagined that long before humankind walked there, the earth itself was singing its own melodies, endless but always changing. And now, millions of years later, here I was, absorbing it all and feeling inspired to compose. I realized all I had to do was listen to the earth, and channel its sound and energy into my music.
It was very freeing to make music devoid of my ego, music that was simply reflecting something awesome outside of myself. I thought about the lake, the falls, the river, the sky- and I had a vision of what the music should sound like. It was not so easy to bring to life- several monolithic, static impressions of sounds that I could not explain, and was unsure of how to approach. What kind of weird sound was this that I was trying to make? When should it start and stop? I followed my instincts, not thinking too much but just feeling what to do, approaching each impression from a variety of angles, recording, rearranging, continuously massaging each “song” until it felt “finished”.
I wanted to take the listener on a journey from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, with a sidetrip on the way to go skydiving above the landscape of Niagara County. In Lake Erie we find ourselves immersed in the dark murky depths, as a ray of green light reaches us from the surface. Reaching the surface we find ourselves drifting slowly along the river, water burbling gently and calmly, occasionally encountering turbulence at sharp corners. Then, the final calm before we are taken by surprise, going over the falls, where white spray and pounding water surrounds our bodies. A constant drone emanates from under the rim of the falls, touching us from all directions, vibrating on all frequencies. The deep rumble nearly shakes us apart, until we find our way into the whirlpools just downstream.
Heading northeast, we ascend to 3000 feet, and survey the countryside and Lake Ontario as we make lazy circles and figure 8’s on the way down.
Somehow we find ourselves in a deep, rocky gorge, hearing sounds echoing off the walls, and after a slow steady journey, eventually drift out into Lake Ontario among the sounds of birds.
Everyone who had encouraging words.
Barb for her patience.
Bruce, Dave, Kevin, Mark, and Scott for inspiring me to make the trip, and not crushing my head when they had the chance.
The birds in my backyard.
Tea With Warriors would also like to thank fellow WNY natives:
Michael Mecca of Pittsburgh Digital for the use of his fretless bass, and helpful suggestions. Margaret Sharrow for allowing the use of her paintings “Blue Forms 2” and “Blue Forms 3” for the cover art.
Recorded at Winterburn Studio, Pittsburgh, PA May 2008 to January 2009. Engineered and mastered by John Neumann.
Chinese drum, buffalo drum, maracas, wind chimes, rainstick, violin, acoustic and electric guitars, 6-string bass, fretless bass, Nord Modular, various sound fonts.
Recorded with Digital Performer. Cover design created with The GIMP.
Musical content ©(P) 2009 John Neumann/Tea With Warriors.
Background paintings, “Blue Forms 2” and “Blue Forms 3” © 2008 Margaret Sharrow, used by permission of the artist. Other elements of cover design by John Neumann.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable law.
Other stories/trivia about "Niagara":
1) This trip to Niagara Falls was actually to go see a reunion show by my favorite comedy troupe, "The Kids in the Hall". The next morning, my wife and I walked around Goat Island, and that's where I was inspired to write "Niagara"
2) My grandfather told me he was the body double of Joseph Cotten in the Marilyn Monroe movie "Niagara", in the scene where he drives a boat in the river just up from the falls (both he and my dad worked for the Great Lakes Towing Company on the boats).
3) I didn't see Niagara Falls myself until I was 19, though I grew up just a couple hours away!
4) Margaret Sharrow, who painted the paintings I used as a background for the CD cover, is a friend of a close friend of mine (Chris Terpin, who contributed to a couple of my earlier efforts) from Buffalo. She was always fascinated with the U.K., and moved to Wales to study art. Check out her web site to see more of her art.