Here is the Interview Posted by Musicologist Robert Silverstein on mwe3.com
Featuring studio production by famed producer / New Age music conceptualist Will Ackerman, the 2014 CD release of Emergence is the finest album yet from acoustic / finger-style guitarist Lawrence Blatt. The 12 track, all instrumental album should be right up the alley among fans of Ackermans’s world renowned Windham Hill Records. Recorded in Ackerman’s Vermont-based Imaginary Road studio, Emergence features Lawrence working with Ackerman’s “A-list” of solo instrumentalists including violinists Charlie Bisharat and Lila Sklar, Eugene Friesen (cello), Sam Bevan (double bass), Jill Haley (English horn), Richard “Gus” Sebring (French horn) and Jim Rothermel (penny whistle). Earlier album releases, including Fibonacci’s Dream and The Color Of Sunshine were both critically acclaimed, yet the release of Emergence brings Lawrence Blatt's guitar-centric brand of instrumental music to a whole higher level. The sound on Emergence is more 21st century guitar-based mood music than meditative acoustic instrumental, yet there’s elements of both that should have wide crossover appeal not just among contemporary art music aficionados but also among guitar fans looking for an eclectic acoustic instrumental music experience. For Emergence, Blatt states that his compositional style was influenced by a ‘world full of complex patterns and seemingly unexplainable order, from the beauty of an individual snowflake to the migration patterns of birds and butterflies.’ The unexplainable complexity of life and the miracle of sound is brought under the sonic microscope on Lawrence Blatt’s excellent Emergence CD. www.LawrenceBlatt.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it?
Lawrence Blatt: I have lived in many places and each location has had a unique and significant influence on my life and on my music. As a young child, I grew up in Southern California in the San Fernando Valley, which is adjacent to Los Angeles. From the age of seven, I had an intense longing to play the violin. I know that may sound strange for a seven year old growing up in the heart of rock and roll, however something inside me was begging to play the violin. After several months of pleading with my parents, they agreed to let me play and found a wonderful teacher, named Mr. Burt, Albert Burt to be exact. Mr. Burt was at least eighty years old, fairly disheveled, always traveled with both a violin and a viola, would come to our apartment for my weekly one hour lesson and would stay two to three hours or until my parents kicked him out. He would hand write all music from memory on staff paper and he built within me a strong sense of musical logic with his explanation of scales and chord theory. I did not know it at the time, but he was building the foundation of my musical landscape.
Later, when I was in the fifth grade, my family moved from California to Indianapolis, Indiana. In my new hometown, I cultivated a deep and intense interest for acoustic music and the guitar. As a teenager, I continued my love for classical music and played in the Indiana Youth Symphony. At the same time, I became involved in the Indiana singer/songwriter scene and was exposed to roots music played on porches and in small taverns. I attended Indiana University, Bloomington, took classes in the music department, was exposed to a vast number of musical styles and forms, and learned a significant amount of music theory. I also continued with singer/songwriter solo and ensemble performances in and around the Midwest and even ventured south to Nashville, Tennessee. Later, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to work in a biotechnology company, and it was in Colorado that I had a musical transformation. On a whim, I signed up for a master guitar seminar taught by renown finger-style guitarists Laurence Juber and Brian Gore. Working with Laurence and Brian completely transformed my approach to playing and I was introduced to open tunings and playing with the use of my bare fingertips. This approach now predominates my playing. A few years later, I moved to San Francisco and began an intense one-on-one study with Brian Gore.
The San Francisco Bay area is my home today and it is indeed a fertile crescent of creativity. There are many musicians living in the area and opportunities to collaborate are bountiful. To this end, I have worked in collaboration with artists like Jeff Oster, who is another Bay area resident and a close friend.
The Bay area is also a breathtakingly beautiful place and I find inspiration for my music in the many diverse micro climates and ecologies of the vast Northern Californian landscape. I have also, of recent, spent more time back in Indianapolis, where I am able to find both a deep grounding in my music and a peaceful clime of a slower-paced and simpler lifestyle.
mwe3: How did the newly released Emergence album take shape and how did you meet and then work with Windham Hill founder, Will Ackerman? What’s it like working with Will and in what ways did he help you shape the sound and vision, and reach the final release?
Lawrence Blatt: As you may know, I have a deep interest in science as well as music and two of my previous albums, Fibonacci’s Dream and The Color of Sunshine, have blended my passion for music and science. For my latest album entitled, Emergence, I wanted to see if I could use the scientific concept of emergence as a guidepost to create music. The concept of emergence has recently been utilized to explain how complex patterns can “emerge” from simple rules, both in nature as well as in sociological systems. It has been used to explain the inter workings of beehives, the migratory patterns of birds and butterflies, and the complex geometry of snowflakes, as well as many other highly ordered systems.
My concept for the album started about five years ago and given my love of stringed instruments, I wanted this album to include violins, violas and cellos. In some ways, the concept for the album was simple. I created initial guitar parts that served as the root for each piece. For the guitar parts, I utilized chord theory and musical rules of movement and progression. For each solo instrumentalist, I asked them to adhere to the chord structure within the bounds of predefined simple rules, and restricted movement to that being mandated by the guitar. No written music was supplied to any of the other musicians.
This is exactly how order emerges in complex systems in nature. I was initially a little nervous about this approach when I first started, but quickly realized how powerful it was. The complexity of each track is a function of simple rules that allow higher order richness and diversity to evolve unexpectedly from each solo instrumentalist. In some instances, the soloist could hear the parts played by others, however, on some tracks, the soloist did not hear corresponding parts, but rather only adhered to the simple rules given to them. This is the case with the Celtic inspired composition, “Passing Up Bridges,” where the violinist, Lila Sklar, and the penny whistle player, Jim Rothermel, did not hear each other during recording.
The album also has Will Ackerman’s signature style all over it. In many ways, Will’s contribution was also a function of Emergence, as he has his own well-described methods and approaches to recording music. I met Will several years ago by way of an introduction from mutual friends, and I can say that his influence on my music has been immense. Will pushes me to try to go further than I thought I could and his demanding, yet genteel style, helped to bring Emergence to a much higher level. I also consider Will to be a close friend and teacher, and I am forever grateful for this aspect of our collaboration.
mwe3: When was the music on Emergence written and is there a track that you’re releasing as a single for radio or video? Do you have a favorite track or tracks from the album?
Lawrence Blatt: The music for the album was written over several years in many locations throughout the world. For example, the classical music inspired "Gar Du Nord" was written in Paris, France when I was stranded in the North train station waiting to take the Chunnel to London. "Passing Up Bridges" was written on one of many trips to Will’s studio while driving in the emerald green countryside and traversing the many small towns with beautiful old bridges that cover the Vermont countryside. The song is about hope, but also longing to stop and learn about the many beautiful villages that I needed to “pass up” to reach my destination at the specified time.
Other compositions on the album are rerecordings of pieces I released on previous albums as solo guitar works, that for Emergence, are transformed into ensemble pieces. These works include the composition, “Say Hello Again,” which was transformed into a string ensemble for Emergence, as well as “Green Corn,” which features Charlie Bisharat on violin and Gus Sebring on French horn.
The album has been sent to radio stations, and given the diversity of the tracks, I am hopeful that several will be selected for airplay. I think that for people who would like a flavor of the album, they should start with the title track, “Emergence,” and then check out “Say Hello Again,” “Green Corn,” and “The Place Where The Pines Once Stood”.
mwe3: Can you tell us who else plays on the Emergence album with you and who else was key in the making of the album?
Lawrence Blatt: I am so pleased with the other musicians who played on the album, many of whom were hand selected by Will Ackerman. These musicians include solo instrumentalists, including Charlie Bisharat and Lila Sklar on violins, EugeneFriesen on cello, Sam Bevan on double bass, Jill Haley on English horn, Richard "Gus" Sebring on French horn and Jim Rothermel on penny whistle.
mwe3: How would you compare Emergence with your other CD releases and how do you feel your playing has changed or improved over the years? Do you practice every day and how does practicing guitar help you with your composing?
Lawrence Blatt: As one of my collaborators recently stated, “Emergence is the most consistent album you have released, from a stylistic perspective.” I think the album is much more grounded in classical music compared to my previous releases which spanned jazz to acoustic roots, and even World flavors. I also think that the album has a great progression of the program, with each composition leading to the next.
Please try to listen to the entire album at once to experience this aspect. In addition, I think this album is more mature than previous releases and the album is “about the music,” meaning, that it didn’t need to be only about my guitar. To this end, for several compositions I play an accompanying role, rather than lead role. One final note, the album contains no percussion instruments which is a big departure from many of the rhythmic composition on my previous albums, Out of the Woodwork, Fibonacci’s Dream and The Color of Sunshine.
mwe3: Can you tell us something about the guitars you are performing on the new album and what other guitars do you have in your collection that you use to record and perform with? How do you decide what strings you want to play on what guitars, and do you have any favorite amps, pickups and/or special effects when you record or play live?
Lawrence Blatt: I played several guitars on the album, including my Tacoma Thunder Chief Baritone guitar, tuned to AEADF#A for “A Promise in the Woods,” and AEADF#B on “The Place Where Monarchs Go,” and BEADF#B for the composition, “Green Corn”. For several other tracks, I played Will’s Froggy Bottom OM guitar, tuned to standard tuning for “Emergence,” “Illuminations,” “Where the Pines Once Stood,” “Entering the East Gate,” and “Say Hello Again,” and tuned down to DADGAD for “Passing Up Bridges.” I also played my custom Perlman Redwood Topped guitar tuned to DADGBD for “Walking Among Tulips” and to DADGBE for the Eastern European inspired composition, “Poloyne.” For “Gar Du Nord,” I played a European built Furch Stanford acoustic guitar tuned to standard tuning.
I have several other guitars in my collection, including several Gibson Montana acoustics as well as a custom EVD and Kathey Wingert Parlor guitar.
When I tune down, I like to use medium gauge strings and often use Marquis or D’Addario strings. In standard tuning, I like to use light gauge strings. I don’t use any modifications for my guitar sound and usually only mic the guitar without pickups for recording at Imaginary road studios. Since I play acoustic, for recording, I don’t use any amps or pedals. Live, I like to use just the house PA and sometimes plugin a pickup. LR Baggs acoustic pickups are my first choice to get a warm natural tone.
mwe3: What artists most influenced your guitar playing and compositional style and what music do you listen to when you relax or party? What are some of your favorite guitar albums and rock and pop albums?
Lawrence Blatt: In high school, I was influenced by singer/songwriters, such as Neil Young, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, Cat Stevens, Carole King, Jesse Colin Young, Van Morrison, Dan Fogelberg, America, and Boz Scaggs. In college, my musical interests expanded to include artists such as John Lee Hooker, Al Jarreau, John Mellencamp, Joe Jackson, and Chicago. While living in California, I listened to a lot of folk music (Steve Earle, Steve Goodman, John Prine, Lyle Lovett) and jazz (Larry Carlton, Brandon Fields) and I also love R&B artists like Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire, as well as old school funk, and rap/hip-hop.
I am also deeply inspired by other finger-style guitarists including Will Ackerman (of course), Laurence Juber, Michael Hedges, Brian Gore, Dave Wilcox, Leo Kottke, Ottmar Liebert and The Netherlands’, Harry Sacksioni.
mwe3: What are the plans to help get the word out there about Emergence and what other ventures do you have planned for 2014 and into 2015?
Lawrence Blatt: To help get the word out, I am working with some great people, including Max Horowitz at Crossover Media who will make my CD available for radio shows, and I am also working with Doreen D’Agostino on press related matters. I am also, like any musician, working with my own social media sites so we can all help spread the word. In the end, I just want my music to be heard and I thank you, Robert, for the opportunity to be featured on mwe3.com.
Thanks to Lawrence Blatt @ www.LawrenceBlatt.com