SpaceshipEarth, the first solo guitar piece on my newest album, Ecstatic Mechanism, was composed circa 2005. The idea came about while expanding on an earlier piece (titled Inner Mission on the Sound Travels album) rooted in old stride-piano-like folk patterns, the right hand thumb walking an alternating bass line while the fingers pick out the melody and harmony. The guitar tuning for SpaceshipEarth is a bit unusual – the 5th string is tuned to an F, and the 6th string is tuned to a D.
In 2006 while working on a video animation project with my partner Alyce Santoro, a conceptual artist, we discovered that this piece would make an ideal soundtrack. In the video, we demonstrate what happens when ice cream cones are glued together at their tips. Spoiler alert: they form a perfect sphere! The video is an ode to Buckminster Fuller, famed futurist and inventor of the geodesic dome. SpaceshipEarth is filled with a kind of optimistic momentum…form following function in ways that aspire to be efficient, elegant, and playful – qualities I associate with Buckminster Fuller. “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” is the title of one of his most famous books. This piece is named in honor of his vision for a world that works for all.
In the fall of 2012 I had begun notating my works for solo guitar, including SpaceshipEarth, when my un-backed-up-harddrive crashed. Fortunately, I had sent preview copies of a couple of pieces to family members. SpaceshipEarth was preserved, but only as a PDF, which could not be read by the version of the notation software I was using. Reed Maxson, a long-time friend who is an extraordinary composer, came to the rescue, offering to help by scanning the PDF back in to his version of the program. Since the scan didn’t transfer well, Reed took it upon himself to enter the missing notes “by hand”. During this process he felt inspired to add more notes, and then some more, and before he knew it, he had fully orchestrated the piece, adding more than 25 instruments, from timpani to piccolo. Upon listening for the first time to this newly-orchestrated version, I was completely stunned – what had started out as an unfortunate situation had turned into something wonderful in a way that I never would have considered.
After hearing the orchestrated composition, I wondered what would happen if we combined the solo guitar and orchestration. To this end Reed and I exchanged scores and audio files electronically until we were satisfied with this version of SpaceshipEarth.